A recent program had Reid Middle School students reaching for the stars with assistance from the Smithsonian Institution and Springfield Museum of Art.
Youth Capture the Colorful Cosmos brought art and science together as students engaged in using robotic telescopes to photograph and colorize their own images of stars and galaxies like professional astronomers, interacting with real astronomers and scientists in the process.
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Eighth-grader Benjamin Saunders and seventh-grader Josh Mayfield got the dream opportunity to represent Reid and Springfield in a Smithsonian-sponsored YCCC Youth Summit in Washington, D.C. late last month, where they were part of a select group of students from 11 states who delved further into the project.
“We mixed art and science and it was cool to see how they corresponded and how much alike they were,” said Saunders.
The boys were accompanied by their moms and Annette Eshelman, the Springfield Museum of Art’s Curator of Education. The Springfield museum is a Smithsonian affiliate art museum, and grants from the Smithsonian, the Springfield Foundation and several individuals helped pay for the trip.
“Working with the seventh and eighth graders at Reid has been as much a learning experience for me as for the students,” Eshelman said. “The students and teachers really embraced this program. You could see in in the students’ work.”
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Saunders and Mayfield weren’t really sure what to expect at the youth summit. They didn’t get stuck between meeting rooms and their hotel.
“We had fun. It was hands-on and we used telescopes and did a lot of interactive work,” Saunders said.
Among Mayfield’s highlights were meeting Mary Dussault, the Harvard-Smithsonian scientist he’d been corresponding with on the project and discovering satellite technology and the color structures they use.
Springfield was the only Smithsonian affiliate art museum team participating in the youth summit and Saunders and Mayfield were the only students to create original works of art inspired by the astronomy they learned according to Eshelman.
“The entire two days was well worth it,” said Cheri Mayfield, Josh’s mom who chaperoned along with Darla Saunders.
Neither boy had visited D.C. before and the trip included stops at several landmarks, including the National Air and Space Museum, which is part of the Smithsonian.
Another memorable activity was handling rare artifacts and analyzing items at one of the Smithsonian museum, which also impressed Eshelman.
“To handle artifacts and see art works I’d only read about was unbelievable,” she said.
Benjamin Saunders said the trip gave him a clear idea of his future career path.
“I always liked engineering but found you can mix it with astronomy,” he said. “I’d really like to thank the Smithsonian for showing me this, and the art museum for making this possible.”
Eshelman said aiding local educational programs is an essential part of a museum’s mission.
“Youth Capture the Colorful Cosmos is a perfect example of how the Springfield Museum of Art’s Smithsonian affiliation directly benefits our community and enhances learning opportunities for our children,” she said.
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