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Access to Advancement, Part 1: Space Camp

Instructor: You good?

Katie Gleckler: Yup.

Instructor: Okay, so this on your left hand...

Katie Glecker: Mmm-hm.

Instructor: ...is forward and back, left to right.

Katie Gleckler: Yup.

Instructor: And this will roll you to the right,

Katie Gleckler: Okay.

Instructor: ...and roll you to the left.

Katie Gleckler: Mmm-hm.

Instructor: You push that button,

Katie Gleckler: Uh-huh.

Instructor: It will yaw,

Katie Gleckler: Okay.

Instructor: ...cause you to rotate on yaw, okay? And then pitch is up and down on your right hand.

Katie Gleckler: Okay.

Instructor: Alright. You ready?

Katie Gleckler: Yup.

Instructor: Here we go. Oh, when you're, when you're controlling it, don't just hold this back,

Katie Gleckler: Okay.

Instructor: ..,push back, let go, then push back... (The rest of the sentence is indecipherable.)

Katie Gleckler: Okay.

Instructor: Alright?

Katie Gleckler: Alright.
(Sound of simulator starting)

Allison Dunne: That's 17-year-old Katie Gleckler, strapped into the MMU, or manned maneuvering unit. After her simulation ride, she says:

Katie Gleckler: It was fun.

Allison Dunne: What did it feel like?

Katie Gleckler: It feels like you're kind of hanging in mid-air, and just, it's fun. Like, you turn to the side, you're just sort of, kind of floating there.

Allison Dunne: It's one of the many activities during SCI-VIS, or Space Camp for Interested Visually Impaired Students. Katie, who's from Tuscon, Arizona, says the MMU simulates a sort of jet pack that astronauts wear in space to help them maneuver around a shuttle or satellite to fix something.

Katie is part of Advanced Academy. SCI-VIS Coordinator Dan Oates explains the various programs and tracks within Space Camp.

Dan Oates: At Space Camp, there are three different levels for each program. The two programs are astronaut training and fighter-pilot training. So the astronaut training is separated into three different programs: Space Camp for elementary-age kids; Space Academy for middle-school-age kids; and Advanced Space Academy for the secondary-age kids, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade. And then Aviation Challenge has the same separation: elementary, and middle, secondary, but those are Mach I, Mach II, Mach III.

Allison Dunne: Katie, a high-school senior, is back for her third time at SCI-VIS, and hopes to return for a fourth, to nurture her love of math and science.

Katie Gleckler: I love science. Math is actually my favorite subject in school, and so I love all of this kind of stuff, and learning about how the rockets work and are made.

Allison Dunne: Dan Oates points out it's the young women who tend to be repeat campers.

Dan Oates: I find there's a bigger passion. If the girls come, they keep coming. I get girls that come a lot and come to the space stuff. Once they, once they're here, they want to come back to it. And the guys, they do that if they go down to Aviation Challenge to be a Top Gun fighter pilot. They'll come back to that for year after year after year, but the girls seem to gravitate to the space side.

Allison Dunne: Katie says she definitely wants to go to college, but she's feeling two gravitational pulls: one toward engineering, the other, toward law. Her father is an optical engineer, so she has been exposed to engineering, but what is the attraction?

Katie Gleckler: The engineering, it's got math and science and you get to reach new boundaries. You build this kind of stuff that's never been built before, and you can take stuff apart, and blow stuff up, and.

Allison Dunne: Katie has low vision, and while she has many things wrong with her eyes, her main condition is Aniridia, or the congenital full or partial absence of the iris, so she is extremely sensitive to light.

She says Space Camp is a place for her to be around others like her, who want to try new things, have fun, and, of course, share an interest in math and science and space.

Katie Gleckler: It's just sort of a dynamic here. All these kids here, they're fully functioning. They're, they're fun, they're crazy, they're...The counselors have lots of fun. There's so much things to do. I mean, every year you have different positions in the missions and you do the different simulators, and there's different stuff. You learn about the rockets, and, just a lot of fun.

Instructor/Chaperone Becky: Move your right foot up to the next rock, right foot up to the next rock.

Male voice: Inside knee, Jasmine.

Instructor/Chaperone Becky: There you go, okay, over to your right. No, Jasmine, left, left, in the middle.
Other male voice: There you go, perfect

Instructor/Chaperone Becky: Right there; see it, feel it.

Instructor/Chaperone Becky: There you go. Good girl, good girl.

Other voices: Yeah, yeah.

(Clapping)

Instructor/Chaperone Becky: Alright.

Allison Dunne: That was one of the chaperones at SCI-VIS. She was helping high-school junior Jasmine Rahseparian navigate a climbing wall. Like Katie Gleckler, Jasmine has low vision, part of which is a result of Aniridia, so she, too, is highly sensitive to light. Jasmine says the climbing wall was lots of fun, but took some guts.

Jasmine Rahseparian: I was a little scared at first, just like, getting up there, and, like, I have a little problem, I'm like scared of heights, kinda, but, once I got up there, it was a lot fun. I'm glad I did it.

Allison Dunne: Jasmine is from Norman, Oklahoma, and attends the Oklahoma School for the Blind in Muskogee. Cheryl Daniels, who is a science teacher at Jasmine's school, said she selected Jasmine along with two other girls for SCI-VIS. She says Jasmine is really good at math and science, but, as is the case with the other two girls, could use some confidence.

Cheryl Daniels: And I just felt like those girls could use this program to strengthen their confidence in themselves and see how many other blind kids are out there, how they're doing amazing things, and I knew the girls would do great. They weren't so sure when they first got here, but they feel so much better about themselves, and just, bonding with each other has been great.

Allison Dunne: Do you see a difference already?

Cheryl Daniels: I do, I have to say. When we first got here the girls were kinda like, we're not sure we want to do this, this isn't fun, Miss Daniels, it's kind of hard, the first day. And then, by today, they've bonded with their other teammates, they're, they're closer with each other, they're taking care of each other, it's just, it's great.

Allison Dunne: SCI-VIS takes place for one week, in the early fall, at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, which is next to NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. And while there is a lot to be learned about mission control and motion simulators, there is just as much to be gained in other skill areas. SCI-VIS Coordinator Dan Oates describes the climbing wall and zipline activity in which Jasmine participated.

Dan Oates: There's a leadership reaction course with kids who are in Mach III and Advanced Academy get to participate in. There's a, a 49-foot climbing wall, a rock wall, that they have to climb up, and when they get to the top they switch from the one harness over to another harness, and then there's a 200-yard zipline that they have to get down from the top of the tower on that zipline, and, as they sit on the edge of the 49-foot tower, there's a 10-foot dead drop, before that, before the cord tightens, so, and there's a lot of, I mean, you have to be able to sit on that tower and know that you're gonna fall 10 feet, and trust everything before you know it happens. And it's a huge personal growth for our kids, absolutely huge, can't put it into words.

Allison Dunne: What Jasmine, who was part of Mach III, can put into words, is that she plans to attend college, where she wants to study astronomy.

Jasmine Rahseparian: Ever since I was like in about fifth grade, like we were learning about planets and stars and stuff, I just found it really interesting.

Allison Dunne: "Just because I can't see the stars, doesn't mean I can't reach for them." It's the motto at the top of the SCI-VIS home page, and something in which another camper strongly believes.

Deanna Greco: Um, I would like to be the first visually-impaired woman to go on the moon.

Allison Dunne: This is Deanna Greco's second time at Space Camp. Now, she's 11 and in sixth grade. Her first time was two years prior, at age 9, and here's what she remembers, with the help of her mom's prodding:

Allison Dunne: What do you remember about that week, apart from missing your mom, of course, and, and being the youngest? What about the activities or what about what you were learning, do you remember?

Deanna Greco: Well, the activities are pretty much the same as this year, but they're just a little, like, beneath what we do. They, like...

Phyllis Greco: Do you remember that, that you built the rockets? Remember the rockets you built...

Deanna Greco: Oh, we're building rockets now.

Phyllis Greco: Right, but that's one of your first experiences.

Deanna Greco: So, we built a rocket, and then I was Mission Control Two in the orbiter.

Allison Dunne: Deanna, who lives in New Jersey, was diagnosed, when she was eight, with Cone-Rod Dystrophy, a retinal degenerative disease through which she is losing her vision.

Phyllis Greco, Deanna's mother, says it was a woman she met through an online network who let her know about SCI-VIS.

Phyllis Greco: And right after she was diagnosed, I became friends online with a lot of other people through The Foundation Fighting Blindness. We became e-mail pals, and, and message board pals, and she had told me about this program, and about Dan Oates. And she gave me the information to get a hold of Dan Oates. That is the only way I would have found out about this program.

Allison Dunne: So, just networking.

Phyllis Greco: Networking, on a, on a, yeah, on a message board with a woman that lives in Maryland.

Allison Dunne: What do you think about the fact your mom found this great Space Camp for you?

Deanna Greco: I am very happy about it, because if it wasn't for her, I would have never liked science or math. Like, I would never have that dream to go to space. I would never even thought about it, and now that I've been here I'm like, this is pretty cool, maybe I do want to go to space.

Phyllis Greco: For me I just, I support Deanna in anything that she wants to do. And, and with having the vision problem, I want to make sure that she's clear that that shouldn't stop her in anything that she wants to do. Science and math is definitely one of Deanna's strong points. She's straight A's, she's a straight-A student, but in math she's a grade ahead even. So, and math seems to be easier for her to work with because the numbers, like she was saying...

Allison Dunne: Like she just said, yeah.

Phyllis Greco: ...with her vision problem, reading sentences and everything sometimes just the words are long, they're kind of cut up with her vision, where the numbers, she seems to grasp easier. So she loves math, and she loves science.

Allison Dunne: Dan Oates says it's having that interest in math and science, especially space science, that's really necessary to attend SCI-VIS.

For the weeklong camp, Oates says there are a number of accommodations.

Dan Oates: In any situation where a child's in front of a, a monitor, a, a TV screen, which is in mission control, which is in the orbiter, which is in space station, they all have information that they need to glean from the system, the interconnected system between those three locations. So on each screen there is screen magnification software and there is speech. So any child who sits down is able to get the pertinent information by interacting with the monitor with a keypad mouse, not a regular, regular mouse that you would have with the cursor on it. So, we've taken that out of the system and installed our own 20-key keypad that allows interaction with the information on the monitors. All the printed material is available in large print or in Braille. That's all produced by teachers in West Virginia and shipped down here.

Allison Dunne: In addition to coordinating SCI-VIS, Oates works at the West Virginia School for the Blind. In fact, he says, SCI-VIS began 20 years ago, with 20 kids from that school.

As he marked the 20th Anniversary of SCI-VIS, Dan Oates discusses accommodations at Space Camp a bit more.

Dan Oates: Other adaptations are the headphones at mission control. One ear is wired with chatter from mission control itself, your teammates, and the other head-, head-, ... the other ear is based with the information coming off the computer in speech. So they have to be able to process two channels of auditory information at the same time, which is a very tough skill, but most kids get that in about three minutes. (Laughs) Absolutely amazing.

Allison Dunne: And he points out another accommodation among the space equipment.

Dan Oates: Well, the other big accommodation was on all the panels in the orbiters and in space station, there's switches and all sorts of gizmos in both of those locations. And we've gotten acrylic, clear, plastic panels with the Braille labeling on them, and we simply Velcro them to the panels.

Allison Dunne: He says it can be quite a challenge keeping up with changes in the space program, and implementing adaptations for new simulators and equipment.

As for changes within the campers themselves after a week at SCI-VIS, Katie Gleckler says she's learned about self-advocacy.

Katie Gleckler: Well, it's gotten a lot easier for me to come up and talk to people about my different visual stuff and what I need or don't need to help me.

Allison Dunne: And remember, there's Jasmine Rahseparian, who overcame her fear of heights at the climbing wall and boosted her confidence. All gained more exposure to STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math, and are eager to continue their studies in STEM subject areas. In addition, Deanna Greco's mother, Phyllis, says Deanna leaves Space Camp with the following:

Phyllis Greco: Independence, that's what she's gained, independence.

Allison Dunne: Dan Oates said he'd like to see more students attend SCI-VIS because:

Dan Oates: The kids that are interested in math and science benefit from this place tremendously, and the majority always want to come back.

Allison Dunne: Deanna says she wants to come back, to do Aviation Challenge, and Advanced Academy. Yet before she heads home to New Jersey, Deanna and her fellow campers participate in a SCI-VIS graduation ceremony. Deanna's mom, Phyllis, runs to the front and crouches down with her camera, to capture her daughter, who is donning a blue space jumpsuit, crossing the stage with her SCI-VIS certificate.

Space Camp Counselor: Deanna Greco, from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, was our mission specialist number two...

(SCI-VIS counselor continues announcing names of the SCI-VIS graduates.)

For The Best of our Knowledge, I'm Allison Dunne.

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