Volunteer spotlight: Astronomy Camp with Sarah Shepherd

Volunteer spotlight: Astronomy Camp with Sarah Shepherd

posted in: Leadership, Volunteers | 0
A storm approaching the Tucson and the Biosphere II.

Sarah Shepherd is a Girl Scout volunteer in Maryville, TN. She has been volunteering with Girl Scouts since 2003 and is currently the troop administrator for a troop of 6th-8th graders. She has been with them since they were in kindergarten! She is also a member of the Little River Service Unit Team and serves as the Cookie Cupboard manager.

Last fall, she attended an Astronomy Camp in Arizona especially for for Girl Scout volunteers! She had an incredible time and wants other volunteers to seek out opportunities like this one. She told us about her trip below:

How did you hear about the workshop and how did you apply?
Social media! I’m in several unofficial Girl Scout groups on Facebook, and another group member posted a link to the workshop from their council. I was intrigued. After looking into it, I noticed that even though it was only a month away, there was no stated application deadline. I decided to email the director.
I submitted a short online application and was informed that there were 50 applicants for 12–15 slots. Even though I was one of the last to apply, I got the opportunity to attend because there had never been an attendee from the Girl Scout Council of Southern Appalachians before, and they’re trying to reach someone from every council in the US!

Tell us about the workshop! What did the schedule look like? What kinds of activities did you do?

The Biosphere II

It was held in Tucson, Arizona at the Biosphere II and sponsored by the University of Arizona, the SETI institute, and NASA. There were 12 other wonderful Girl Scout volunteers from across the country, as well as two astronomy professors from the University of Arizona. We got started early Friday afternoon and continued all day Saturday and Sunday.

Friday consisted of learning about space science. We talked about the solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, other nearby galaxies, and stars and constellations. We learned lots of fun comparisons about scale. For example, if the Earth was about the size of a baseball and the moon was the size of a penny, they would be about four feet away from each other. We also looked at the night sky and saw several constellations, asterisms, planets, and the Milky Way with the naked eye!

On Saturday, we learned about classification and categorization of objects, especially planets and galaxies. We learned about light waves and how they affect what we see. For example, we can use different wavelengths of light to detect objects, map them, and colorize the depiction. Every opaque object emits all colors of light, just in different proportions.

Learning about shadows and eclipses

We also spent a lot of time doing hands-on activities that we can use with our Girl Scouts. We made clay moons to compare planet scale. We stretched ropes across the courtyard to get a feel for the comparative distances of planets in our solar system. We did fly-bys of a “planet” to talk about spacecraft observations. We used a solar scope to look at sunspots on the surface of the sun. We learned how to do each activity in a simpler way for younger girls and in a more complex and interesting way for older girls. On Saturday evening, the professors brought their personal telescopes and we looked at the moon, planets, stars, and nebulas.

We spent Sunday talking about stars, galaxies, and scale modeling. We toured the habitat portion of the Biosphere II and  the mirror lab at the University of Arizona that’s making telescope lenses for what will be the largest optical telescope, located in South America. After dinner, we drove up to the Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter Observatory to use a 61” diameter telescope! The things we saw! When we looked at the moon (in particular, the terminator line), we saw several planetary nebulas, Saturn (including the rings and 4 moons!), a spiral galaxy, and the “Blue Snowball” nebula! Around midnight on Sunday, we arrived at the hotel near the airport as everyone was flying home.

Learning about classification. Do you classify by shape? Color? Content? So many options!everyone was flying home the next morning

What was your favorite part?
I enjoyed learning the hands-on activities that we can have the girls do. I was inspired by meeting amazing women who also have a passion for space science and teaching STEM to our girls. And looking through the powerful telescope at objects that are actually outside of our galaxy was mind-blowing! My favorite part was learning different analogies for making size comparisons that you can wrap your head around. Like, if the Earth is reduced to the size of an egg, then all the water on the planet is about the size of one drop. And, if you go from Earth’s highest mountain to its lowest point, it’s about 12 miles. If you reduce the Earth to the size of a basketball, proportionately the Earth is smoother than the basketball’s surface.

We were actually INSIDE the south lung of the Biosphere!

Why would you encourage other volunteers to seek out opportunities like this one?
It was amazing to learn from two professors who have an obvious passion for teaching space science to kids. And, you can’t beat the experience of interacting with a dozen other volunteers who are just as excited about teaching our girls more about space science.

Why astronomy?
That’s easy: I’ve been an astronomy nerd for years! I love space science and weather and I love doing STEM activities with girls. I’ve hosted several badge workshops in our service unit for different age groups to earn science-related badges. I hope to be able to use what I learned at the workshop to develop some Council’s Own space science programs here in our own council! I’m also developing an event for the 2017 solar eclipse. While the eclipse can be seen across most of the country, the path of totality (people who will see an absolute TOTAL eclipse) is narrow. But, it goes right across Blount County and a few other counties in our council, so we can’t miss this opportunity!

If you’d like more information on this camp, make sure to check out their website! Dates for 2017 sessions are already listed an registration is open!

Also, for more information on space and STEM-related badges, make sure to check out the Badge Explorer!

An extreme close-up of the lunar surface taken through the 61” telescope on Mt. Bigelow. This was taken with just an iPhone looking through the telescope viewer.

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