Why we do what we do……Space Camp

I’ve often borrowed the phase, “why we do what we do,” from a speech that Roger Whittaker made while he was president of (what was then) UCEA. He described why we, as professional continuing educators, do what we do.  I had another one of those moments last week when I attended the “graduation day” for our inaugural Space Camp.

Space Camp was the brain child of Dr. Shanil Virani from JMU’s physics department, and Director of the Planetarium at JMU. His passion is space, and with Space Camp his hope was to pass on his passion and to “inspire and excite the next generation of scientists and engineers.”  And when you combine his passion along with the expertise of our PK-12 Engagement Coordinator, Katie LaPira, what you get is a fantastic experience for almost 100 students. The program, hosted by the JMU Department of Physics and JMU’s Outreach & Engagement, was funded in part by an $8,000 grant from the NASA Langley Research Center.

Like most of you, we offer these types of camps for many reasons.  Shanil said it well: we want to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.  In addition, as I indicated to the parents at the graduation ceremony, kids often simply dismiss the STEM areas as content of interest.  Our hope is that by hosting these types of camps, more students will at the very least keep the STEM subjects as possible areas to pursue.  Attending the graduation ceremony and seeing how the camp inspired these middle school kids about space as well as related STEM areas, I was very hopeful that the camp had succeeded in capturing the passion of some of the kids. And clearly that is one of the reasons of why we do what we do.

As I talked with the parents, kids, and camp leaders, I learned that there were other results from the camp that represented why we do what we do.  For example:

You have to persevere, you have to stick with it.

The camp included a video conference call with Dr. Franklin Chang Diaz, an astronaut who has flown on the space shuttle a record number of seven times. Dr. Diaz was the first Hispanic-American astronaut, and not only shared his own experiences as a space shuttle astronaut but even more importantly the important lesson that “You have to persevere, you have to stick with it.”  This idea of sticking with it was a theme that the kids mentioned many times at graduation.

We learn as much if not more than the kids.

In sharing emails with Shanil about the success of the program, he reminded me that the JMU students who served as camp counselors learned as much if not more than the kids, not so much about science but about teaching.  Shanil described this outcome very well…..”One of the shining success stories of our Space Camp was our JMU students. We had 3 Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies majors, 3 Physics majors, and even a Biology major, work the camp! To see them push, motivate, excite and inspire their camp kids every day about science and engineering is a true testament to their love and passion for science… Having our pre-service teachers and physics majors who would like to teach involved in running the camp, the experiences they had, the lesson plans they can now take when they enter their own classrooms, allows us to have stronger, better prepared teachers. I am so proud of their work last week!”

Your best talent is often in your back yard.

Aubrey Urbanowicz, a meteorologist at WHSV-TV, our local television station, generously gave of her time to meet with the space camp kids and talk about her interest in science and why she thinks science is cool.  In addition, through Facebook, she gave daily weather forecasts specific to Space Camp that were shown every morning to the kids.  Here is an example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ePhqTzOK7s

How cool was it to have a special morning weather forecast just for the kids in the camp?  As an added benefit of including Aubrey, the camp also received excellent news coverage, which was not only great for the camp but also was an effective way of informing the community about this and other JMU Outreach & Engagement activities.

Why we what we do…providing the opportunity to access education.

Again like many of you, we attempt to serve not only our local school divisions but also those in our region.  Our passion is to serve school divisions up and down the Shenandoah Valley. What I learned at the graduation is that one of our outlying school divisions provided transportation (the good old yellow bus) so that their kids could take advantage of the camp.  These kids took the bus daily, one hour to the camp and one hour home. This shows not only dedication on the part of the kids but also the school division.  While we may never completely know the impact of the programming we offer, the following thank you note to Katie is yet another reason of why we do what we do:

I was out of town on a short vacation last Thursday and Friday and am just back to work today.  I appreciate the invitation and am sorry that I couldn’t attend.  The camp turned out to be such a wonderful experience for our students.  I can’t thank you enough for your efforts “above and beyond” to make it all possible.  You may never know the true impact of the interest that was sparked because you took the time and made the effort to include students who normally would not have had the opportunity to participate. 

You are never too old to go to camp.

One other item I learned at the graduation was that one of the kids was able to attend the camp because his grandfather drove him in from West Virginia.  Now, that’s very special in itself, but at the graduation ceremony the grandfather also received a certificate for completing the camp. The topic so interested him that he asked for permission to attend the camp.  This story gets even better, because the grandfather took the time to write our president to express his appreciation for this experience.  To quote from his letter, “it was the most wonderful, exciting and educational thing I’ve done since moving into this area 10 years ago.”   Yes, this is why we do what we do.

In closing, I want to thank Shanil and Katie for all they did to make the camp not only a success for the kids but for all the ancillary impacts that the camp made.


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One Response to Why we do what we do……Space Camp

  1. Don Swoboda says:

    Great story Jim, Keep on doing what tour doing.
    don s

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