August 6, 2014 8:00 pm

The Need for Space: Youth Leadership Conference

Photo of GOALS Girls presenting their projects at the Youth Leadership Conference

GOALS Girls presented their own projects to peers and mentors. Each group researched a planet and devised a creative way to advertise tourism for their chosen planet. Image Credit: Megan Bednarz

Today’s guest blog post is from StarTalk Volunteer Megan Bednarz, who works at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum Complex as an educator and part of their Community Engagement Team.

In the midst of the Intrepid Museum’s annual Space & Science Festival, Camp GOALS for Girls hosted one of its most exciting Youth Leadership Conferences yet. These weekly conferences allow campers to connect with mentors in the STEM fields they may be interested in pursuing.

Astronaut Ellen S. Baker, the keynote speaker, gave a great presentation overviewing the variety of projects undertaken by NASA. Throughout her Q & A session with the campers, Baker reiterated that you can have all the textbook knowledge and technical skills you want but what will make you a really great astronaut is your ability to work with your teammates. Working in the close quarters of the ISS or an Orbiter Vehicle requires thoughtfulness towards the people around you. When asked what the scariest part about going to space was, she said that she was never scared. Astronauts receive very thorough training and are taught to deal with all possible malfunctions, emergencies and instances that require troubleshooting and backup systems. She spoke about her ability to compartmentalize and keep her emotions separate from her capacity to do her job. When asked who her biggest mentors were, Baker said the people closest to her. It was the feedback and encouragement from her parents and NYC public school teachers that inspired her to find something that she loved to do and to then go and do it very well. When asked if she always wanted to be an astronaut, she quickly pointed out that NASA did not hire women until 1978 so it was not a job that she was aware that she could pursue when she was growing up. When asked if it was hard being a female astronaut, Baker emphasized that all astronauts receive the same generic training and are trained as a team, so gender does not particularly rule the group dynamic during a mission.

The other visiting mentors included Justine Haupt from Brookhaven National Laboratory who encouraged the girls to learn by doing. She pointed out that she studied academic physics but began learning about astronomy and optics through her hands-on, self-guided projects. Haupt is in the process of helping to design the world’s largest digital camera that will help astronomers image the entire night sky and near Earth objects. Haupt emphasized that going to college is for learning how to learn and for learning just how much you don’t know! But she sure did know a lot about dark matter.

Campers heard from Hunter College junior Sara Camnasio who presented about her studies of the always fascinating and mysterious supermoon and her shock that scientists do not yet have a sure reason for the phenomenon. Camnasio also does research at the American Museum of Natural History so it was great for campers to hear about what college life in NYC is like and how to pursue opportunities outside the walls of your classroom.

Audrey Vorburger from The Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the American Museum of Natural History gave a fun talk describing her own path going from a young girl whose favorite subjects were math and physics to an electrical engineer working on projects such as the first unmanned Indian mission to Moon, NASA Messenger and ESA JUICE. Her love of math and physics has allowed her to travel the world and keep a work schedule flexible enough to balance precious family time with her daughter.

At a time when teens are being flooded with mixed messages, distant celebrities depicted as heroes and the overarching pressures to be successful and beautiful by other people’s standards, all of the mentors’ real world advice was refreshing, heartfelt and much appreciated.

Photo of Mars Habitats Camp Intrepid campers designed in TinkerCad, taken by the Camp Intrepid Staff

Camp Intrepid shows off the Mars Habitats they designed in TinkerCad.
Credit: Camp Intrepid Staff

Alongside Camp GOALS, the rest of the Education Department was taking full advantage of this year’s Space & Science Festival and breaking in our brand new planetarium by hosting space themed Access Family Programs and Professional Development for 140 teachers. Camp Intrepid put our 3D printers to use by creating their very own unique Mars Habitats after learning all about the physical conditions of the planet. Our free Astronomy Night welcomed 811 visitors and 36 telescopes! When clouds broke we were able to examine Mars and Saturn from the Flight Deck with our guest astronomers. Not too shabby considering all that light pouring from the city. Our good friend, former NASA astronaut and Columbia University professor Mike Massimino, even stopped by to mingle with the crowd! Next one up is on August 23rd and you can RSVP here.