Local students learn about space

ELKINS — While “traveling through space” this week, students in the Reading and Early Literacy Camp at North Elementary School got to visit the sun with the help of a special guest from the Green Bank Observatory.

On Friday morning, Sophie Knudsen, education assistant at the Green Bank Observatory and coordinator for the West Virginia Science Public Outreach Team (SPOT), taught students about the sun and its affects on everyday life on Earth.

She said SPOT teaches undergraduate students in West Virginia to conduct these presentations across the state.

“We train undergraduate students from colleges and universities in West Virginia to deliver these presentations — these shows about space science as well as water science — to K-12 schools and students,” she said. “Today, I am presenting as the coordinator as most of our college ambassadors are on their summer break, and it’s really close to the observatory so I wanted to pop by.”

Knudsen added the goal of the program is to teach science to students while also allowing them to interact with college-aged students that also grew up in West Virginia.

“Most of the time a school or organization will request a presentation and will receive it from a freshman to a senior in college that serves as a wonderful role model for the K-12 students, showing them the science that is being done today and in the future in West Virginia as well as serving as that pathway to college where it’s made possible or made imaginable by students who also grow up in West Virginia and want to go to college or a university,” Knudsen said.

She added she believes presentations such as these can assist students in discovering potential job opportunities they may not have known about before.

“I think it’s really important not to create barriers between our youth in West Virginia and the jobs that are available to them that they may not know about – becoming a NASA astronomer or scientist or engineer is very possible,” Knudsen said. “At Fairmont there is the NASA Independent Validation and Verification Center. There is also the Green Bank Observatory in Green Bank where science is being done with a huge radio telescope, the world’s largest fully-steerable one. These kids can grow up and stay in the same state while pursuing these STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers.”

Kay Curnutte, coordinator for the Reading and Early Literacy Camp, said she feels the group was fortunate to have the STOP program visit for their last day of camp.

“We were fortunate enough to get ahold of this program from Green Bank. We thought it would be nice as a culminating activity to pull somebody in that had something extra to add,” Curnutte said. “We are lucky to have Green Bank so close and (Knudsen) has really done a nice job. The kids have really liked it. She is very knowledgeable about what she is doing.”

The theme for the week-long camp program was outer space.