CASE Through Different Lenses – by Jane Kelly

Over the past two years, I’ve worked at CASE in many different capacities- as an intern, volunteer, and now as a paid intern. In each of these positions I’ve learned something, whether it’s workplace etiquette or how to deal with kids who really want it to be snack time already, and through these lessons CASE has been instrumental in my development into a working individual.

When I began interning with CASE, it was because of a school requirement- I needed 60 hours to pass the class and graduate. I came in for a few hours twice a week, and I spent that time in all manner of tasks; I cleaned lab equipment, researched for the CASE website, stuffed folders, and more. As I explored my new office world, I started to understand more about what I wanted to do. Even more than that, I learned how to interact with people in an office setting. I learned how people in the office prefer to be addressed; when I should ask a question or get help, and when I should work through it on my own. I came in with no work experience at all, and by the time I left, my coworkers and supervisor at CASE had shown me what a professional setting was and how to demonstrate that I belonged there.

The year after my internship, I started volunteering with CASE’s First Light Saturday Science Program. There I saw a whole different side to the organization- where before I had been on the administrative side of things, I was now involved with the actual outreach. Working with the middle school students was often a frustrating experience (they seemed to think I couldn’t see that they had three packets of graham crackers), but the touching moments made it worth it. During only my second week with the students, the table I supervised began insisting that I participate in their projects as well. They wanted me to make a spectroscope with them because they thought spectra were cool and interesting, and they wanted me to see them as well. When I politely explained that there weren’t enough materials for me to make a spectroscope as well, every single one of them began to offer their own spectroscope up. Middle schoolers are not renowned for their selflessness or empathy, yet in this environment, they began to value learning to the extent of wishing those around them would have similar experiences. Whether or not they recognized or understood this change in themselves is up for debate, but the willingness to share learning continued throughout my time with them. It still sticks with me as an example of how profoundly outreach programs can change attitudes towards education. 

As I’m writing this I have taken on another role in CASE, now as a paid research assistant for the Summer STARS program. The youth (age 14+) in the program are writing grant proposals related to the astronomy content they learned during the first few weeks of their summer here. Working with older students has been different, but still great. Their indignation when we can’t always give them an answer to their question- after all, for as much as astronomy has progressed there is still so much we don’t understand- is amusing but also exciting. Most of them had no experience with astronomy prior to Summer STARS (and some had little interest in STEM), but when they engage in activities whole-heartedly, I hope we’ve sparked a life-long interest in STEM.

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