Lipscomb University's response in unprecedented times.Learn More
Amanda Price |
For Betsy Thomas, assistant dean of student life, service to youth is a passion. As an educator, Thomas taught government and economics at Goodpasture Chrisitan School for five years before relocating to Lipscomb Academy. While at Lipscomb for the last seven years, she has served as a guidance counselor and currently is assistant dean of student life. A decade ago, Thomas learned of Camp Horizon, a summer camp founded in 1983 and funded through the nonprofit Beyond the Horizon Tennessee for children who have or have had cancer. What began as one summer of volunteering as a camp counselor is now a decade-long commitment to service to children in health crisis. Aiding the camp now as a volunteer on the director staff, Thomas continues to dedicate her summers to the campers at Camp Horizon.
Recently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Camp Horizon made the unanimous decision to cancel the 2020 summer camp for their at-risk population of campers. “Being with my Camp Horizon family is something I look forward to every year. Because of our current circumstances, we will not be able to have camp in person,” said Betsy Thomas.
To limit the disappointment of many campers, Thomas began to conceptualize how campers can still experience summer camp from the safety of their own homes. Enlisting the help of 2019-20 Lipscomb Academy Teacher of the Year Drew McConnell and 19 STEM students, the academy devised a plan to create a virtual experience for Camp Horizon campers. “Several of our classes are partnering with Camp Horizon to make a virtual camp experience come to fruition. I know that this will provide fun and excitement for all of our campers as we conduct camp virtually this year. Giving campers a way to walk the campground and see familiar spaces and sights will allow all of our camp family to feel connected to each other,” continued Thomas.
McConnell, having taught computer science courses in the makerspace iWonder laboratory for five years, instantly began planning how his students can use their skills to help others. As part of their year-end coursework, this collaborative effort between students in programming, app development, computer-aided design and innovative engineering classes will produce a web-based, scavenger hunt video game where campers have to find and collect objects by exploring the Camp Horizon campground.
“This is a great opportunity for all of our students to not only apply their skills in a real-world environment with a real client and deadlines but also to learn important skills around project management and collaboration with peers in other disciplines,” said McConnell.
To be completed by the end of the academic year on May 20, a project of this size is a daunting feat and requires focus and dedication. Therefore, computer science students were divided into two teams to tackle the assignment: asset designers to create the 3D models of the camp and programmers. Additionally, three seniors were designated as leaders to organize and manage the project ensuring the quality and consistency of work divided among the teams: Jackson Neese, lead project manager; Joey Presa, head CAD designer; and Steven Markotich, head programmer.
“It's exciting to be a part of such a comprehensive project, especially because it's for a good cause. As a project manager, I'm excited to experience what real-life STEM project work is like and how we can all work together to accomplish something great,” stated student Jackson Neese.
As team leader for modeling 3D assets for the game environment, sophomore Lauren Cole sees past the class assignment to empathize with youths in health crisis that will not be able to experience summer camp as a result of the pandemic. "I am looking forward to working on this project and helping provide a sense of normality to those who can really benefit from it," said Cole.
The virtual camp experience launches live June 21.
Camp Horizon is a unique camp for children who have or have had cancer. Camp Horizon is designed to meet the special needs of children undergoing treatment, as well as offer a fun environment where they can participate in typical summertime activities with others who have experienced similar circumstances. In addition to a weeklong camp for children undergoing treatment, Tennessee’s Camp Horizon offers a weeklong SIBS Camp for siblings of current or former cancer patients. Camp is provided free of charge to all campers.