Jennifer DeVore was over the moon with her recent trip to Space Camp
It’s safe to say Dover’s Jennifer DeVore has stars in her eyes.
Not literally, of course, but the fifth-grade science teacher just got back from a week at Space Camp, an experience for some that is almost exciting as a real trip into orbit.
“I guess you can call me a science geek,” DeVore said. “I’ve always really been interested in science.”
From June 20 and June 26 she was one of 224 K-12 science and math teachers at Space Camp via the Honeywell Educators at Space Academy, hosted by the United States Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
It was the first such experience for the 27-year-old DeVore, who hadn’t traveled on an airplane since she was an infant.
Now in her fifth year of teaching, she motors 45 minutes each way to her classroom at the Lockerman Middle School in Denton, Md. Although certified to teach both in Delaware and Maryland, she got her first job offer from the Caroline County School District.
“I really don’t mind the drive,” she said. “I take a bunch of country back roads and there’s maybe two flashing lights along the way.”
Polytech shows the way
Born in Illinois to a military family, DeVore came to Delaware when she as about six years old. Her high school years were spent at Polytech, where she developed her interest in teaching about science.
“I really loved my time at Polytech,” she said. “That’s where I became interested in science. I had a really fantastic environmental science teacher, Susan Wujtewicz. She took me to the side and told me science was something I was good at. The principal also told me I should consider teaching.”
She was president of the school’s FFA chapter, a role that taught her leadership skills, DeVore said.
In choosing her life’s path, DeVore used the SEED program to obtain an associate degree in elementary education at the University of Delaware. She then attended Wesley College, graduating in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with an emphasis on science.
“I went to Wesley because I didn’t like the idea of being a number, like at a large school,” she said. “I wanted a one-on-one experience with my professors. They did a really great job.”
DeVore now is a few credits shy of her master’s degree at Salisbury University.
‘I was so excited’
Around the same time she started teaching, DeVore was drawn into the mystery of the skies.
“I really became interested in space,” she said. “I had the chance to do some professional development at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, where I got to see the Antares spacecraft on the launch pad. I also got to visit NASA facilities at the Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. My dad has been a space fan and he had a telescope that he gave to me. I try to take it out as much as I can.”
But despite all this interest -- including spending nights glued to the eyepiece of her personal telescope -- DeVore learned of Space Camp only recently.
“My friend got accepted into the program and told me how great it was,” DeVore said. “She told me that since I was a space geek, I had to apply.”
And apply she did.
The online application included an essay to find out how attending the camp could affect each teacher and their students. She asked for a full scholarship. She received her acceptance in a January email.
“I opened it and I screamed out loud, I was so excited,” DeVore said. The competition was intense, she said, adding two or three applicants were turned down for every one accepted.
DeVore’s application was unusual in that she was accepted the first time she applied.
“A lot of people on my team had applied several times,” she said. “They were surprised I got in on my first try.”
After her arrival at Space Camp, the teachers were formed into different teams who worked to complete different space-related scenarios. Each included educators from the United States and abroad. Some of the foreigners didn’t know where Delaware is, she said.
“Our days were jam-packed with activities,” she said. “They had us moving from 6:30 in the morning until 8 or 9 at night.”
The grueling schedule actually was a lot of fun.
“They really want to take you out of your comfort zone,” DeVore said. “They put you through 45 hours of space exploration, showing how science and math apply to the space program.”
The program also had its physical aspects, including water training, where each teacher was expected to step off a four-story-high platform and fall into the large pool using a zip line -- backward. Another simulated an escape from a submerged helicopter.
“You’re in there with five other people and you’re expected to escape under water through this opening,” she said.
Another day, everyone was suspended in harnesses to simulate weightlessness and another contraption that allowed them to experience lunar gravity, which is one-sixth that of Earth.
“We had to learn to run and jog and do a bunny hop,” she said. “It was a crazy feeling.”
Each teacher received their own personalized blue NASA jumpsuit. On graduation night, teachers were photographed with others from their home states.
She was the only educator from the First State, so DeVore had the chance to take center stage for her picture.
Each received a series of lesson plans with standards and tips to adapt much of what they learned to classes, DeVore said.
“I took away a ton of resources,” she said. “I had to rearrange some of my luggage because it was over the weight limit for the flight home.”
DeVore also met astronauts Wendy Lawrence, who flew four space shuttle missions, and Clayton Anderson, who flew aboard the shuttle three times and spent 152 days aboard the International Space Station.
“They’re all so down-to-earth,” she said. “You don’t see that with politicians or other people in the public eye. They answered questions and seemed to really care about the educators that were there.”
There was a lot to take away from Space Camp, and it was more than books and lesson plans, DeVore said.
“One thing I learned was that it’s important to make learning fun and to bring STEM into the classroom. That’s one thing they emphasized, including the astronauts, that need for STEM and STEM-related careers.”
Especially girls. There were at least 30 women with her in Space Camp, DeVore said.
“I really feel that right now there is a huge need for women and girls in science and technology.
“I hear a lot of girls say they’re not interested in science or that it’s boring or that it’s just for boys. I tell them I got my interest in science from my teachers and that by the end of the year they’ll find something they’re interested in and that they’ll find science is really fun.”
It’s possible that DeVore’s experiences may open other doors.
“I’ve learned that I can apply to go back and this time share my experiences,” she said. “I’ll have the chance to talk about how it all affected me. I really feel blessed to have had this opportunity.”