Monday, July 31, 2017

New Orleans Area Youth Have an Out-of-This-World Experience at UNO's NASA Astro Camp


Ten-year-old Louis Dillon peered through a telescope pointed at the fiery orb 92.96 million miles away.

“I see it!” he yelled, a grin spreading across his face as the sun shone red through the telescope’s filter.

Nearby, his fellow campers in the University of New Orleans’s inaugural NASA Astro Camp fiddled with light blue index cards fashioned into what their instructors called eclipse viewers.

“If you go to see the eclipse, this is the best way to look at it,” Ivan Gill instructed the children, holding the cards parallel to one another so that the sun shone through the pinhole in one and let light through its shadow over the other.

The scene was just one in the week-long camp July 24-28, a campus pilot that included lessons on the solar system, moon phases, the physics of flight and more. Seventeen campers attended, all of whom are in grades five through seven in New Orleans metropolitan area schools.

Campers made ice cream using liquid nitrogen, created seed balls, visited a portable planetarium supplied by NASA, built rockets that they launched with air and others that they launched with water, built sugar crystals, designed parachutes and viewed the sun and more.

“It’s based off of stuff I know, but we got more into it in a more interesting way,” said Cara Folse, 12, who is entering the seventh grade at Arden Cahill Academy in Gretna.

Gill, associate professor of curriculum and instruction at UNO, said he was pleased to bring the NASA-created camp to UNO for the first time largely because it offers a rich curriculum that does a great job marrying fun with scientific education.

“It’s a thoughtful curriculum,” Gill said. “The things they are doing are both fun and scientifically valuable … That’s not always the case with camps. You sometimes don’t have accurate science and you don’t always have people conveying the information who have the qualifications to do that well. In this case, I thought we got both.”

Gill worked with Karen Thomas, associate dean of STEM Outreach, Recruitment and Retention in the College of Sciences, to organize the camp. Four additional instructors staffed the camp, working closely with the campers each day: UNO alumna and Mary D. Coghill Charter School teacher Kristen Sanders (M.A.T., ’16); UNO engineering student Miya Terrell; Tulane University geology student Nuri Melancon, an alumna of other UNO youth science camps; and UNO graduate student Evan Wall, who is working toward his master of art in teaching.

Radaiah Dillon (B.A.,’05), said she was excited to enroll her son, Louis, in the program—and not only because it takes place at her alma mater. “He’s really interested in science,” she said.

Louis received his own telescope for Christmas last year and is gearing up for the Aug. 21 solar eclipse, which is expected to be partially viewable in New Orleans if the skies are clear. Astro Camp not only gave him an outlet for his enthusiasm, but it fueled even more she said: “He’s all excited about the solar eclipse.”

The program was made possible due to the efforts and support of UNO’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, the College of Sciences, the College of Engineering and the College of Liberal Arts, Education and Human Development.