Sunday, April 17, 2011

Back Home Again / Indiana Yuri's Night

Returning from my trip to South Africa late on Friday, April 8 didn't give me lots of time to turn around for the next INSGC activity--our annual Affiliates' meeting on April 12-13.  We have our Affiliates' meetings every year, in sites that rotate around Indiana, but April 12 was a special date that we had decided to share and experience at the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis.  So, after our initial partnership discussions and presentations at the Fairfield hotel across the street, we came over for a party.  Not just any party, though--Yuri's Night.  You see, April 12 is a landmark date in human history, and April 12, 2011 was an especially significant one--the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's first human trip to orbit the earth in a spacecraft.  In addition, this was the 30th anniversary of STS-1, the first flight of the first Space Shuttle (Columbia) on April 12, 1981.  (I can clearly remember that day, as a first-year student at MIT, crowding in the lobby of Building 7, watching the launch on television, and believing that everything was possible.)  So, INSGC hosted a reception and movies at the IMAX Theater, and invited our Affiliates, partners, advisory board members, and dozens of teachers to attend to help us celebrate.  Thanks to Craig Mince of the IMAX Theater (and INSGC Affiliate Director), we got to enjoy encore presentations of "Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D" (which opens with a news report of Gagarin's flight) and "Hubble 3D" (which closes with the imagination of a young girl becoming a commander of a lunar base). 

Yuri's night celebrants at the Indiana State Museum

Thanks to Dr. Dawn Whitaker, we were even dressed for the event--yes, all of the INSGC staff (myself, Dr. Whitaker, Angie Verissimo, and student interns Isa Fritz and Ben Weiss) were outfitted in matching Yuri's night t-shirts that she had found at Think Geek. 

Doesn't Ben look good in his Yuri's Night t-shirt?

As I said, April 12 is a date that I remember in the history of space flight for its life-changing experiences  (well, my eldest was born on April 11, but that's a bit different), and we should really highlight those sorts of experiences.  The Affiliates who couldn't attend were actually celebrating Yuri's Night elsewhere in Indiana: the Star Plaza Theatre in Merrilville was hosting former astronaut Wendy Lawrence at another INSGC supported event organized by the Challenger Learning Center of Northwest Indiana.  "Reaching for the Stars" was the theme, and I can't imagine a better slogan for the day.  In much the same way that Gagarin and others helped fuel the dreams and opportunities for lives such as Capt. Lawrence and others, her presentation can change the lives of others who got to hear her presentation and even ask her a question.

In fact, some of the folks I got to meet at the event were also fantastic examples of how space flight (and Space Grant) can change lives.  Two of the students who presented posters at the event were people that I had met, or who had contacted me, through unexpected and unplanned interactions.  Patrick Cavanaugh came to the INSGC booth at the Indiana State Fair back in 2009; since then, he's been involved in computer engineering projects, received INSGC scholarship support, and is now looking towards graduate education.

Patrick explains his work on computer imaging to Dr. Whitaker.

Gabriela Campos was on track to have an "okay life," as she puts it.  Then, she heard about a summer program for students to get involved with STEM research, and was put in touch with INSGC.  She received some internship funding, and is now also excited and motivated and passionate about her work on MEMS sensors--she talked about the changes in her experiences leading her towards a "fantastic life".  Her enthusiasm is infectious, and wonderful--and an example of why we believe in INSGC. 

Gabriela answers a question about MEMS sensors for Dr. Lee and me.
I really want to thank everyone who attended, including Advisory Board members Chris Foster and Dr. Jordan Lee, and all of the Affiliate Directors and representatives and partners who worked hard with us on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Most of all, I am tremendously grateful to Dawn, and Angie, and Ben, and Isa, for all of their efforts to put together an event that we can be extremely proud to have hosted.  I know that a few teachers came up to me to thank me for having them at this event.  However, the thanks go to them, and to the teachers themselves. 

I am so pleased that INSGC could be involved in these events, and could help to bring excitement and history and imagination and passion to STEM engagement. 

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