DCYSC Winner Melissa Lamberton
From Melissa Lamberton (DCYSC & ISEF Finalist) relative to her DCYSC won trip to Hawaii, July 2002
I have to admit, I was uncertain at first about this Towards Other Planetary Systems workshop. While my family was going to enjoy the splendors of Hawaii, I would be sitting in lectures about NASA and brown dwarfs and.... well, I really didn’t know what else. I love astronomy, and anyone would be thrilled about a trip to the Big Island, but, well.... I just wasn’t sure.
In fact, all my preconceptions were exactly and completely correct.
Only it was far more exciting than I ever thought it would be.
I’m not just talking about the lectures, which covered everything from the fate of failed stars to NASA’s Deep Impact Mission. I’m not just talking about the late-night hours we spent observing near the coast, or the time spent in the darkroom developing lunar photos we took ourselves. I’m not just talking about the trip up Mauna Kea to view one of the world’s largest telescopes, or the hike to the rim of a still-smoking active volcano. I’m not just talking about the banquets and beach parties, all done in the beautiful Hawaiian style.
I’m talking about a group of amazing people that all came to the Hawaii Preparatory Academy to attend the workshop, a group of people who had nothing in common with me except that we would be living together for two weeks. A group of people I will never forget.
In actuality, I was worked much harder than I had ever thought I would be. And to my surprise, I enjoyed every minute of it. Lectures that would have been far too boring in a classroom setting were brought into a hands-on environment, where teachers and students could discuss and share ideas freely. And to enrich these discussions, I met with incredible people like Karen Meech, the director of the program and an expert on the Deep Impact Mission set for 2005. People like Joseph Chasing Horse, a Lakota Sioux who spoke about the importance of sharing our knowledge and our culture with others. People like Nainoa Thompson, who talked about Polynesian voyaging, a subject I had fully expected to put me to sleep. Instead I found myself on the edge of my seat, listening to stories of heroic deeds, distant days, and his dream for the future of Hawaii.
Nor were the guest speakers the only incredible people I had a chance to meet. I had just as much to learn from the teachers and students that I worked and lived with over the two week workshop. Each student was paired with a teacher for observing projects, which lasted long into the night as we gazed into a sky clearer than anything I had ever seen. While some groups worked with spectrography, messier search, and other activities, my partner and I took lunar photographs, which we later developed with our own hands. And in between photographs, star trials, and hot cocoa breaks, there was a glorious spread of constellations to watch and name, with the Milky Way hanging like a thick cloud of galaxies above.
Somehow among all the early mornings and late nights, despite the heavy workload, the students still found time to meet in someone’s dorm (usually past 11:00 p.m—their time) to just chat, or watch a movie on a purloined VCR, or talk about the surprise skit we were throwing for the staff on the last day (half talk-show, half musical, which turned out to be a creative and amusing, if somewhat embarrassing, way to say thank-you.) It was here I made my closest friends, and had the chance to talk about the classes, the observing projects, the beach party, whatever. All the other 19 students attending the workshop were Hawaiian, and many were interested in what I had to say about Arizona.
Looking through my TOPS notebooks, I discover that it is filled with far less notes on lectures than I had first thought, and far more momentos of the time I spent with my newfound friends. Letters and notes people gave me on the last day...brightly colored NASA stickers, a gift from my lunar partner....and in the back, pages and pages of scribbled notes I wrote while in the airport, getting ready to leave, in a last attempt to capture some of what I experienced on the island.
But most of these momentos are stored not on paper but in my memory. Certain moments in time will always been imprinted in my mind.... the full moon rising over Mauna Kea, Jupiter resting lightly on the mast of a ship at sunset, the glorious rainbows (and even the moonbow we saw one night) and perhaps what sums it all up the best: a moment when students, staff, and teachers gathered together one last time just before the bus arrived, standing in a circle and sharing what they had learned. Some spoke of the frustrated and now lovingly remembered nights of learning to manage the telescopes or recognize the constellations, some of the long cultural conversations we shared, some of the silly things we did together, like singing Disney songs out under the stars in-between everything else. And listening to them, I realized that after everything that I was asked to do at the TOPS workshop, all the calculations, the note-taking, the listening, the presenting.... the hardest thing I had to do was go home.
There’s really only one word I have for all those who gave me this incredible opportunity... those in Tucson, at Discovery, and in Hawaii. With all my heart, mahalo.