On Thursday, August 17, 2017, 21 students from rising eighth graders to seniors, including a recent graduate, embarked on the Great American Eclipse STEM Field Trip. Under the moderation of Bro. Nigel Pratt S.M., Mr. Anthony Wevers, Miss Victoria Sindone, and Miss Melanie Vigario, the group met at Kellenberg Memorial at approximately 6:15 AM for an early start on the first day of their adventure. After an opening meeting and a brief Morning Prayer service, the group departed, divided evenly into two mini-buses. After a brief hour and a half of driving, the groups arrived at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, a unit of Columbia University dedicated to all levels of Earth Science, located in the Palisades. The pack of enthusiasts listened and learned about the study of dendrochronology. The students learned that tree ring dating could be used to learn about the climate in a particular area or period of time.
After this presentation, the group moved to an interactive presentation by Margie Turrin, Senior Staff Associate at the Research Center, about glaciology. The group was taught about glaciers, sea level rise, and their effects on the environment using an app that detailed this information. As this concluded, the group had lunch on their separate buses as they traveled to their next destination. Soon, they reached The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. The students were permitted to divide into groups and explore the museum on their own. The museum included exhibits on many aspects of science including, physics, biology, and space. During one hour, the students and moderators were divided into two groups and were challenged by Escape Rooms. Both groups were able to escape within the allotted time of one hour. The institute also had many telescopes on their roof aimed at the Sun, allowing for a preview of what was to come in a few days. After an informative five hours, the group again departed, and after stopping for dinner, lodged at their first hotel in Newark, Delaware.
On Friday, August 18, the students and moderators alike rose early and departed, eventually reaching the National Air and Space Museum, in Washington D.C. There, the students toured for approximately 4 hours, learning about space, the history of space programs, and aviation feats. After their educational expedition, the pupils again traveled, this time to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, an annex of the National Air and Space Museum just outside Washington. Upon arriving, the students ate, and then regrouped for a showing of Dream Big, a short film regarding engineering, its impact in our world, and how it is important for young people to be invested. The experience of the Airbus IMAX Theater added to the immersion. Upon this concluding, the students were once again permitted to go off as groups and learn. The museum included much technology for display in the fields of aviation and space travel, which the students vigorously observed. As this ended, the students returned to their buses for a long drive to their next hotel. Upon arriving at their hotel in Burlington, North Carolina, the students and moderators retired, filled with excitement about the remainder of their trip.
The next morning began with a visit to the largest walk-through zoo in the world, the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, NC. After maps were distributed, the students broke up into groups and wandered through the plethora of African and North American exhibits, spanning from gentle giant elephants and gorillas to red wolves and ocelots. One could also see tropical birds, plant life, and poison dart frogs at the Forest Aviary. By noon, everyone had regrouped, refueled, and returned to the buses for a two-hour drive to The Schiele Museum of Natural History and Planetarium in Gastonia, NC. The students again divided into groups to explore the attractions at the museum before the 3:00 showing of Totality in the James H. Lynn Planetarium. The informative film educated the group about total solar eclipses, when and how they happen, the awe-inspiring sights they produce, and more. The students and moderators left the museum better enlightened and even more excited for the spectacular phenomenon they were to experience in just two days’ time.
That evening, the trip members attended a beautifully peaceful mass at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Forest City, NC. After the service concluded, the group stopped for dinner, boarded the buses, and headed for Smokemont Campground of Great Smoky Mountain National Park, SC. Tarps and sleeping bags were set out in the open clearing, and the moderators and students dozed off beneath the myriad of twinkling stars.
On Sunday, August 20, the group began the new day with Morning Prayer by a quiet, rocky stream followed by a light breakfast. While a few members stayed behind to assist Miss Vigario pack up the sleeping bags, tarps, and other materials from the night before, the rest of the group ventured off into the woods to go on a hike. Drinking plenty of water and making continuous breaks along the uphill trail, the expedition continued for hours. By the time the endeavor was complete, however, the exhausted hikers were more than proud of the feat they achieved. After arriving back at the campsite, all the members reunited and made sure to leave the site better than it was found. Later that evening, the two buses arrived at the Best Western Greenville Airport Inn in Greenville, SC where the group concluded their exciting day.
The morning of the total solar eclipse, Monday, August 21, the students and moderators awakened buzzing with excitement. With the Sun still low on the horizon, the group made its way to Clemson University’s Snow Family Outdoor Fitness and Wellness Center Field, where the eclipse would be viewed from. There a tarp was stretched over the roofs of the two minibusses to provide shelter from the bright direct sunlight while the ardent group of first-time eclipse-watchers patiently awaited the rare nonpareil. However, they weren’t the only ones: over fifty thousand people from all over came to Clemson University campus to witness the eclipse. The University was only three miles off from the exact center of the sixty-seven-mile wide path of totality that wrapped across the United States, making Clemson an optimal viewing spot.
Once the eclipse began at 1:07 PM, spectators watched the Moon block a minute splinter of the Sun with solar eclipse glasses, binoculars covered with solar paper, pin-hole projectors, and solar telescopes. As the Moon continued its route in front of the Sun, the sky above eventually cleared of clouds and then became darker. Soft breezes brushed across the patient faces of observers and in every direction, the horizon displayed sunset oranges and pale yellows. Venus appeared above. The air temperature dropped. Just as the last sliver of the Sun vanished beneath the Moon, the craggy topography of the Moon contributed to the formation of Baily’s Beads and, eventually, the stunning Diamond Ring effect. At this beginning moment of totality at 2:37 PM, the mind-boggled crowd broke out into loud awe-filled cheers and vehement applause as the corona made a marvelous entrance. It was truly awe-inspiring, breathtaking, and deeply spiritual. Rachel Siegel said, “It was so beautiful I can’t even describe it. The perfect word for it was ethereal.” However, even these words are inadequate for those who experienced the 2 min 36.9 seconds of totality.
After totality concluded, the group relaxed a little and discussed their recent experiences. They ate lunch on the tarp while waiting for the traffic to clear. Groups of students went to the nearby lake for a swim. The buses departed, with one taking a slight detour to drop alumni Calvin Bernic ‘17 at the airport so he could return home to get ready for his departure for college. Both buses regrouped at their hotel in Lexington, North Carolina. The group was satisfied at their successful viewing of the rare and magnificent total solar eclipse.
On Tuesday, August 22, the group started later than usual to recuperate from a late night of driving. After leaving at approximately 10:00 AM, the buses drove north until they reached Kings Dominion, an amusement park in Doswell, Virginia. The students enjoyed themselves at the park, eating lunch and dinner there, and going on many roller coasters and rides. Some of these included the indoor Flight of Fear, and the Intimidator 305, which goes at a breakneck speed of 91 miles per hour. After spending 5 hours there, the students again departed, eventually arriving at the Turkey Run Ridge Group Campground. There, the students and moderators set up sleeping bags on a tarp in a clearing, and went to bed peacefully, with the sounds of the night around them, putting an end to another fun-filled day.
Wednesday, August 23 was the final day of the action-packed escapade. The group made a final stop at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA where they met Erin Barrick ’10 who is working toward her Ph.D. in Material Science. The morning was filled with PowerPoints, casting aluminum figures and ingots, watching welding demos, and using liquid nitrogen to make ice cream as the students gained basic knowledge in the field of Materials Science and Engineering. After receiving their cast aluminum creations and saying many farewells, the group boarded the buses for the last time and headed back to New York.
From this amazing adventure, the students took away not only deeper knowledge and understanding of STEM related activities, but also newfound friendships and profound memories to last a lifetime.