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Students publish paper, take Space Day online


Debra Levey Larson

ISS board members assemble Space Camp kits to be delivered to camper's homes.
ISS board members assemble Space Day kits to be delivered to camper's homes.

Students in the Illinois Space Society are so passionate about sharing their enthusiasm for space exploration with the next generation of aerospace engineers, they added two additional groups to their leadership structure:  an educational outreach board and a science communications board. And the new structure boosted this year’s efforts to new heights, including reinventing Space Day as a virtual event that spanned a week.

ISS’ Educational Outreach team published their first paper with AIAA and presented at the ASCEND 2020 conference. Their paper, “Space Exploration for Students, By Students: Best Practices and Lessons Learned” was co-written by Shivani Ganesh, Courtney Leverenz, Amy Exposito, Stephanie Dutra, and Devanshi Narayan—undergraduate students in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign--and Elena Kamis who received her B.S. in December.

Representing the team of authors, Ganesh gave the presentation at ASCEND conference.

The paper states, “Members strive to teach and inspire the next generation through classroom visits, creative competitions, and day-long programs,” accompanied by a listing of an ambitious schedule of activities, some that were postponed and others reimagined due to the pandemic. It continues, “This paper breaks down how members have developed and strengthened the educational outreach program to be more inclusive and accessible … the ISS EO leadership structure, the purpose behind this work, best practices, and lessons learned.”

Participants, second grader Tanner and kindergartner Elijah show off their projects
Illinois Space Day participants at home, second grader Tanner and kindergartner Elijah show off their projects.

One of the outreach examples described in the paper is the organization’s single most labor-intensive event, Illinois Space Day. In previous years, Illinois Space Day was a full day of science and space-themed activities which typically attracts over 150 elementary and middle school students from the Champaign-Urbana area. Due to the cancellation of in-person activities this past year, the event moved online and the team decided to stretch the activities over the course of a week.

There were two components for each day; a 10-minute pre-recorded video and a live activity Zoom session. “For live activity sessions, we had three separate Zoom calls to split the kids into their respective school ages: age 7 and under, age 8 to 10, and 11 years old and up. Having the participants split into similar age ranges allowed us to design the lesson plans to build off previous knowledge,” Leverenz said.

Courtney Leverenz
Courtney Leverenz preparing to mail activity packets to Space Day participants

To ensure all participants had equal access to required materials, the team packed and distributed over 200 free activity kits via in-person socially distant pickup or shipped. The kits included materials such as cotton balls, construction paper, string, a bouncy ball and other household items the participants would need to complete several activities throughout the week. Leverenz said receiving a grant from SEDS (Students for the Exploration and Development of Space) helped reimburse the cost  of  the kits and shipping charges.

“The only things we couldn't mail was shaving cream and plastic cups for the older age groups. We provided everything else,” she said.

The theme for this year’s event was Artemis, named after NASA’s goal to return and land the first woman on the moon.

“We had six days packed with fun, live, interactive Zoom sessions, pre-recorded videos, and a student panel,” Leverenz said. “We also had guest speaker Emily Calandrelli, The Space Gal on Twitter and host of Netflix Emily's Wonder Lab.”

In addition to the authors of the paper, Space Week was coordinated by Komol Patel, Robert Filipuik, Jeff Zhou, and David Robbins.

Videos of pre-recorded exhibits and recording of live demonstrations are on the Illinois Space Society YouTube channel with “ISD” in the title.

ISS’s current outreach program is SciComm—a writing and drawing contest for children from preschool through 12th grade.  The deadline to submit is March 1.

ISS is the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.