For the longest time, my son was only interested in two things: games and Lego. Then we participated in the Science Olympiad, and he randomly chose astronomy as one of his study topics for the team. We found some books on basic astronomy, and he studied. My father heard about the topic of choice, and sent a season of The Universe on DVD.
By the time of the test, my son had become bored with studying the facts of astronomy, but was completely inspired by the DVDs. He would watch episodes with a friend of his and they would discuss the many ways Earth could be destroyed, or the true nature of a black hole. We found more interesting books for him to read like The Pluto Files and Death by Black Hole. His love of astronomy grew.
Could this be his career path? Astrobiology, the study of potential life on other planets, became his focus. There is a college program at our local university. Bingo! Although games and Lego are fun, I was starting to worry about how that might apply to getting a job in life. I looked into any local astronomy things. How could I foster this interest in a fun way?
This past school year, he was an intern at The Dudley Observatory. To be accepted, he had to write an essay, and have a recommendation letter. This is a great program. He was given a telescope of his own, and was expected to learn how to use it. He attended as many star parties as our schedule (and the weather–it’s very cloudy around here) allowed, there were specific education evenings for the interns, and he heard a few talks through the local chapter of the Amateur Astronomy Association. Plus, there were always people to chat with about the latest episode of Cosmos.
A highlight of the program was attending a star party at a local school, setting up his telescope with the other interns, and helping the school kids find different constellations. My son is shy, but he was happy to share what he knew, and to see younger kids excited about the stars.
We live in a city, amongst trees, so taking his telescope outside our house is rarely gratifying. But sometimes we can get a cool view of the moon.
Last month we visited his grandparents who live on a farm, far away from anything. It was a gorgeous night. The moon hadn’t come up yet, and the stars were just amazing. Through the telescope, we were able to see four moons of Jupiter, the Orion Nebula, Beehive Cluster, and everything else my son could remember.
The program is officially over, but his mentor invited all the interns to continue to attend the AAA meetings, local star parties, and of course, keep using their telescope. I recently asked my son what he thought about the program, what he learned, and his interest in astronomy.
“I realize that I really like astronomy, but studying all the facts and details isn’t as fun as just looking at the stars and talking to people excited like me. I think I want this for a hobby, not a career.”
Sigh… I’m not sure what this kid is going to do. But better for him to realize something is a hobby and not a career now, rather than after going into debt with a degree he won’t use. I just signed him up for a video game creation camp, also an area of study at our local university. We’ll see.