Directors Letter September 2020
Scientists are nurtured into being, not produced on an assembly line
We are born into a world of chaos of fragmented and disconnected light and sound, but millions of years of evolution have shaped our brains to find order. Our five senses are data collecting machines designed to satisfy our innate curiosity. Within the space of 10-20 years we pass from a helpless babe sheltered in the arms of our parents, to individuals capable of beautiful music, writing sonatas, and peering into the mysteries of the universe. The challenge of an educator is not to fill the heads of students with facts, but to nurture curiosity and reveal tools of discovery that complement our five senses.
Undergraduate education has been a core part of RMBL’s mission since 1928. However, 30+ years ago Susan Lohr and Susan Hoffman began RMBL programs for children. From the perspective of modern research, with a focus on cutting edge tools, competitive grants, and pressure to publish, it was a stretch. Given that children are natural scientists, it made all the sense in the world.
With the help of numerous educators over the decades, including long-time locals Annie Starr, MJ Simmons, Lizzy Plotkin, and current program director Ann Colbert, it has grown into a full-fledged program. Starting with day programs for the younger kids, through intensive middle and high school programs, we now reach children of almost all ages with age appropriate programming.
We also work with K-12 educators. I vividly remember the response of a first-grade teacher, after participating in a session on observing the natural world, a bit nervous to be around scientists but amazed at the accessibility of natural science. “Not only can I do science, but I see how I can nurture my six year-olds to look at the world!” Absolutely! She had spent a career hanging out with an age group way sharper at observation than any adult.
The K-12 program has come to mean a world of difference to RMBL. Twenty year-olds are emerging as full-blown scientists after decades of discovery. The adjoining article documents Liam Atkin’s journey through our Nature and Science program for young children, our middle school Project Eco-Stem program, and most recently, our high school course. Because of the virus, this last summer we saw several research programs rely heavily upon young, local scientists who joined the RMBL scientific community at an early age.
RMBL is working hard to build a sustainable K-12 program that takes full advantage of all that RMBL has to offer, and in return, makes RMBL richer, more diverse, and harnesses the power of our young scientists. We are working on collaborations to increase school-based programming, licensing and the creation of facilities that can host children overnight in all four seasons, and the financial capacity to support a professional staff. It is an exciting time to make a difference. We encourage you, as a budding scientist, a parent, or grandparent, to join us in this journey! Not only will it make your lives and RMBL richer, but it will make the world a better place!
Ian Billick | PhD
Executive Director, RMBL