Southwest Biology Camp

Explore barren deserts, rocky scrublands, and mountain forests with research biologists documenting regional biodiversity.

Starting location: Sternberg Museum of Natural History
Hays, Kansas (July 13th)

Ending location: Sternberg Museum of Natural History
Hays, Kansas (July 19th)  

Empty attachment or post type not equal 'attachment'
Empty attachment or post type not equal 'attachment'


A fox photographed on one of the motion detecting camera traps we set in NM.

Interested in modern organisms and ecosystems? The Southwest Biology Camp (SBC) students will take a trip to New Mexico to work with biologists from the Sternberg Museum and University Nebraska: Kearney on ongoing bat research! Using professional tools and techniques, we will investigate insect, fish, mammal, bird, reptile, and plant communities and populations. These investigations will include capturing and documenting a number of different species/organisms, and collecting GPS data on captures which will be incorporated into a Sternberg Museum biological specimen database. Students will have the opportunity to use Sherman traps to catch rodents, survey birds using a spotting scope, hunt for scorpions using UV lights, perform nocturnal animal surveys using spotlights, and net bats, among other unique field lessons and activities. In 2015, students documented ten different bat species during our netting surveys! In 2016 we spotted an elegant trogan, one of the rarest birds in North America. We are proud of this incredible collaborative program and the remarkable experiences it provides for our students.

2017 student Makenna Harris holding a bat captured during one of our netting surveys.

Overarching themes of the SBC will include critical thinking skills, use of the scientific method, understanding the process of biological evolution through natural selection, ecology, and generating an informed argument through the use of evidence. The SBC is designed to be an immersive learning experience for students interested in biology and ecology. Our goal is to make sure any student planning to pursue a career in life science will leave our camp with relevant, practical skills and knowledge they can apply in their future coursework.

Project Summary

 2016 SW Biology: Examining a massive neotenic salamander found while netting bats in New Mexico!

Students and staff will work together to document plant and animal diversity of sites visited White Sands National Monument, the Chiricahua Mountains, and the Gila Wilderness Area. Wildlife data collected will be added to the iNaturalist database, used by research biologists to track sightings of organisms around the world!

White Sands National Monument

A pair of toads found in Tucumcari, NM.

The trip begins with a drive from Hays, KS to Tucumcari, NM where we will camp our first night. Tucumcari contains a remarkable diversity of bird and amphibian wildlife, and has been an excellent stop for us since we began this program. Here, students will get there first opportunity to document wildlife sightings, and get familiarized with our camping routines for the trip.

A White Sands Earless Lizard

On the second day, we will make a stop at White Sands National Monument to explore the spectacular dunes and incredible specialized wildlife, including the White Sands Earless Lizard, found only in this location. Students and staff will dive further into discussions of ecosystem dynamics, evolution, speciation, and adaptation.

Leaving White Sands, we will begin the last leg of our big opening drive, to the Chiricahua Mountains National Monument. Here we will meet up with Dr. Keith Geluso and Dr. Mary Harner, both biologists from University of Nebraska: Kearney who have active research projects in the region.

Chiricahua Mountains National Monument

Students exploring a dry riverbed in Chiricahuas National Monument

In the Chiricahuas, we will explore world-class birding sites. This unique ecosystem stretches deep into Mexico, with many species found nowhere else in the United States. (In 2016 we were lucky enough to spot an Elegant Trogan, a species sought by birders who visit this region from all over the world!) Students will also have a chance to visit hummingbird feeder areas, and go on a night cruise for nocturnal mammals, reptiles, birds, and insects! This will also be our first opportunity to set up the motion-detecting camera traps we will be using throughout the trip.

An Elegant Trogan, spotted during our 2016 SW Biology Camp trip. This is one of the rarest birds in North America!


Gila Wilderness and National Forest

Dr. Mary Harner discussing mountain stream ecology and conservation with SW Biology Camp students.

During the first phase of our time in the Gila wilderness, we will be joining Dr. Keith Geluso and Dr. Mary Harner for evening bat netting surveys. Bats are important indicators of ecosystem health, making them a valuable group of study organisms. Students will learn how bat nets are set up, and how to untangle bats from the nets once they are captured. Students will also assist in data recording, and physical evaluation of the captured bats.

We will also explore the Gila River, and discuss stream and river ecology and conservation with Dr. Harner, a specialist on the region working to better understand and conserve the river system and associated wildlife.

Along with these activities, we will be collecting bird sighting data. This will include photographs, video, and audio of birdsong. Students will receive training on keeping field notes, using binoculars, a spotting scope, a super-telephoto digital photography setup, and a digital audio recorder. (Data collected during this program will be processed and entered into online databases, available for researchers around the world to use.)

Dr. Geluso discussing a bat just freed from the net with students.

Before beginning our trip back to Kansas, we will head up for a night high in the Gila mountains, a coniferous forest drastically different from the dry forest and scrubland we started in. Here we will examine differences in ecology and wildlife from the lowlands, and explore a mountain stream running through our campsite. That night, we will head out for a final bat netting survey with Dr. Geluso and Dr. Harner.


Wildlife biologist, Zoology Collections Manager

Instructor: Curtis Schmidt
Curtis became the museum’s first official Zoological Collections Manager in 2011. A Hays native and FHSU grad, Curtis received his B.S. in biological sciences in 1999 and his M.S. in 2004. Curtis is no stranger to the museum, as he began as a curatorial assistant in Herpetology in 1998, eventually becoming associate curator of Herpetology and Mammalogy before being appointed Zoological Collections Manager. Because of his involvement in many research projects, Curtis’ contributions to the Herpetology and Mammalogy collections are numerous. As Zoological Collections Manager, his primary responsibilities are the Entomology, Herpetology, Ichthyology, Mammalogy and Ornithology Collections. Curtis also plays an active part in educational programming and exhibits.





Biology student, campus alumnus

Teaching Assistant: Logan Grose (Certified Wilderness First Responder)
Logan is from Lawrence, Kansas and will be starting his undergraduate studies in wildlife biology in the fall. Logan has been camping and adventuring outdoors his whole life. He participated as a student in the Southwest Biology Camp (2017) and Expedition Ecuador (2018). He was a camp assistant last year for Middle School Paleontology Camp. Logan enjoys birdwatching and animal behavior. In his free time he enjoys hiking, biking, traveling, swimming, and spending time with his cats. He spends a lot of time volunteering at the local humane society and works as a lifeguard.






Counselor: Aysland Batchelor

Additional Information and Logistics

Drop off is 8:00am on the first day. Pick up is by 5:00pm on the last day.

Please see Frequently Asked Questions for information about attending the camps for out of state students.

You can follow along with our camp programs on Twitter and Instagram at @SternbergCamps.

Application Requirements

    • All application materials must turned in no later than May 14th, 2019. (But, the see the Admission Decision Schedule tab below for our four application and admission periods from February to May.) 
    • Student applicants must be ages 14 to 18 as of June 2019.
    • Complete online application.
      • To do this, you will need to set up an account with CampDocs. You can do this by clicking the link above. Once this is done, you’ll be able to log back in to your account as you complete the application process. 
      • The waiver can be found in the online application. 
      • The financial aid application can be found in the online application.
    • 2 page (5-7 paragraph) letter of interest from the student applicant. 
      • You can find suggestions for writing your letter of interest here
      • This must be submitted through the CampDoc application system. 
    • Letter of recommendation from the non-family member for the student applicant.
      • This must be submitted through the CampDoc application system. 
      • You can find instructions for recommendation letter-writers here.
      • Returning students in good standing do not need to submit a recommendation letter. 
        • Standing is determined by staff. A student not in good standing will be expressly notified by the Camps Director.

Admission Decision Schedule

We run on a rolling admission schedule from February to May. Each month, we will evaluate students with complete application files to determine admission and scholarship award decisions. If your student is denied admission to a camp, you will be specifically notified. Below we have listed evaluation period cutoff dates, and notification periods. 

Please contact us at if you have any questions about this process. 

  • Application period 1
    • Cutoff: February 23
    • Admission notifications: February 24th-28th
  • Application period 2
    • Cutoff: March 23rd
    • Admission notifications: March 24th-28th
  • Application period 3
    • Cutoff: April 20th
    • Admission notifications: April 21st-25th
  • Application period 4
    • Cutoff: May 14th
    • Admission notifications: May 19th-24th

Program Cost

Tuition is $630 per member, and $700 per non-member.

A 10% deposit is paid at the time of registration. Students who are accepted into the camp must then have the remainder of the registration fee paid by the May 14th, 2019 registration deadline.

Q: What if my student is not accepted into the camp they applied for? Do you refund tuition?
A: 100% of paid tuition is refunded to any students not accepted to a camp they applied for. This includes the initial deposit paid at the time of initial application.

Q: What is your cancellation and refund policy?
A: Our refund policy for cancellations is dependent on which kind of camp you are signed up for (domestic or international), and when the cancellation is received.

Refund policies Domestic Programs:
For programs taking place within the United States, cancellations must be  submitted in writing, via email or typed letter. Each camp registration is held  to a 20-percent cancellation fee. If you cancel 30 to 10 days prior to the  start of a program, half of the total fee is refundable. If you cancel 9 or fewer  days prior to the start of the program, no amount of the fee is refundable.  Registration fees are non-transferable between applicants.

International Programs:
Cancellations and withdrawals must be submitted in writing, via email or  typed letter. Up to the registration deadline of May 1st, 2018, the program fee is fully refundable. After May 1st, the registration fee is only 50% refundable, as we will have already provided payments for airfares, accommodations, and guide services.

For answers to more possible questions, see our Frequently Asked Questions page!


Contact Us

For questions about the Sternberg Science Camps programs, contact us at or 785-639-5249.

To understand the differences we observe in organisms, a robust understanding of evolution is absolutely necessary. Students are presented with an initial lesson on the population basis for evolution, and how selection over time leads to new species. We continue lessons on evolutionary biology throughout the program, always relating back to the essential concepts of heredity, selection, and variation of genes and physical features. From beak shape and feather colors in birds to the shapes flowers, we will be discussing evolutionary biology frequently, in great depth. Some sub-topics include:
– In-depth discussion of natural selection and selective pressures
– Bird feathers and reproductive selection
– Coevolution
– Camouflage
– Speciation and niche specialization
– Sex-based dimorphism
– Heredity and the importance of trait variation

Studying the interconnected nature of organisms to each other and their environment is crucial for understanding the structure of that ecosystem, and why organisms have evolved as they have. Within the extremely broad field of ecology, we make sure to touch on the following during the program:
– Population ecology
– Community ecology
– Niche ecology
– Trophic ecology
– Behavioral ecology
– Biogeography

Human environmental impacts are a huge concern, even in the typically arid lands of the southwest. The majority of our field work will take place in scrublands, forests, and rivers protected to conserve the biodiversity of the region. Even still, human environmental impacts can still be easily found in all the ecosystems we visit. Students will participate in lessons and discussions about the importance of habitat and biodiversity conservation, including how to approach these topics in the 21st century.

Knowing some basics of camping is essential to field work. Field biology is often done in remote or semi-remote locations, making camping skills necessary to being able to do field work at all!

Training includes:
– Putting up tents
– Camp cooking
– Setting up and breaking down camp
– Leave No Trace strategies
– Efficiently loading and unloading field vehicles
– Environmental injury and illness mitigation
– Building and safely managing a campfire

Field notes that document the location of organisms, information about the habitat, and other details of the field work performed are required for the data to be scientifically useful. We will keep track of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, as well as plants and insects we see as part of our wildlife data collection effort fort he camps. Students learn the essentials of keeping professional-quality notes during all of our field work, with checks and feedback from staff along the way to help them improve.

Taking initiative, staying organized, and effectively communicating are all important skills for working with a team in the field. Over the course of the program, students are coached on developing these areas. With guided opportunities to lead portions of field work, students are encouraged to develop their voices, organize team efforts, and build confidence in their abilities.

From staying hydrated to dealing with bad weather, students are introduced to the hazards of field work and how to effectively, safely deal with them. Staff provide lessons on safety through discussion, making sure students have a clear understanding of problems that can arise and how to effectively avoid them, or mitigate their effects afterwards.

Smartphones and GPS units can lose their signals, and have batteries that die. It is important for students learning to do field work to understand how to read and orient a map. Students are trained in use of aerial photos and compasses to navigate field areas and locate established field sites using cardinal directions and landmarks.

Empty attachment or post type not equal 'attachment'
Student testimonials
Parent testimonials
Financial Aid

 Other 2019 high school camps!

Tropical wildlife biology and ecology in the Amazon Rainforest and Andes Mountains.

Tropical wildlife biology and ecology in the Amazon Rainforest and Andes Mountains.

Create and investigate research questions using professional data collection and analysis techniques.

Create and investigate research questions using professional data collection and analysis techniques.

Learn to excavate and document fossils at active research sites using professional tools and techniques.

Learn to excavate and document fossils at active research sites using professional tools and techniques.