Connect the starry sky observatory to the new STEAM center
By VERNON ROBISON
Leaders of the local workforce development group, Mesquite Works, have long claimed that “the sky is the limit” on a new community learning center they are developing at the Mesquite Plaza Mall. But that may soon be true – at least when it comes to the night sky.
On Saturday, December 18, Mesquite Works board members gathered with members of the Great Basin National Park Foundation team to discuss how live and streaming images of some of the night skies the darkest of the country could be transmitted directly to the nearest. open learning center for the education of local children.
The vision for the local center has come a long way since September of this year, when officials of the Charles and Phyllis M. Frias Charitable Trust announced that they were donating the Mesquite Plaza buildings to the Mesquite Works organization. The donation, valued at more than $ 2 million, is intended for the creation of a community center for the education of science, technology, engineering, arts, agriculture and mathematics (STEAM).
The group visited three spacious classrooms, located on the west side of the mall. These are currently in the final stages of a complete renovation to become the debut of the STEAM center.
Mesquite Works board chairman George Gault explained that the center has a fiber optic connection to the Internet. There will also be a huge 80-inch television set up in one of the large classrooms that will be used for teaching, Gault said.
“We think it would be ideal for viewing a live internet link between the Grand Bassin Observatory telescope and our center,” said Gault.
Images of the night sky would be captured by a huge 27.5-inch reflecting telescope located at the Grand Bassin Observatory located more than 200 miles north of Mesquite in the mountains of Grand Bassin National Park. It is said to be one of the most remote areas in the contiguous United States with some of the darkest skies.
Due to its location surrounded by nature, the observatory is designed to be fully controlled remotely. Students and researchers can operate the telescope with web controls from anywhere in the world as long as they have an Internet connection.
Gault said such an experience would be invaluable as part of the local STEAM center. “In addition to the educational experiences for the kids, we are also planning to involve the whole community by hosting family evenings watching the stars above Great Basin,” said Gault. “What an incredible opportunity.”
A group of four members of the Grand Bassin National Park Foundation team were present at the meeting and were invited to share their comments and suggestions on the new STEAM center and how best to make the connection. between it and the Observatory. They included Dr John Kenney, Chairman of the Grand Basin Observatory Operations Committee; Dr Bridget Eastep, executive director of the Outdoor Pathways program at Southern Utah University; Dr. Kenji Hakuta, professor emeritus at Stanford University; and Steven Brown, Distinguished Fellow of the Great Basin National Park Foundation.
Dr Kenney suggested that in addition to the virtual connection to the observatory, the center consider acquiring a 17-inch telescope to use somewhere in the region or in its darker sky environment.
“Of course, we’re excited to be working on the link with the observatory,” Kenney said. “But there is really no substitute for real experience; the look and feel of looking through a real telescope.
John Mowbray, who is a co-administrator of the Frias Trust organization, agreed with this. Mowbray is an astronomer who has guided many young people to an early appreciation of stargazing.
“I’ve seen it a couple of times when a child first looks through the eyepiece of a telescope and sees something spectacular,” Mowbray said. “It’s a real ‘gotcha’ moment for the kid.”
Of course, the local STEAM center will involve a lot more learning opportunities than just staring at the night sky.
Virgin Valley High School principal Riley Frei said the idea for the center originated in conversations he had with late community education advocate Jim Wilson.
“We talked about doing something here that our school district just can’t do,” Frei said. “If we could take out all the bureaucracy, what could we do that’s bigger and better than anywhere else?”
This is the question we asked ourselves. We weren’t looking to replicate anything of what others are doing, but to go further and respond to new demand. It was not meant to complement anything else, but to supplant it.
Gault added that the STEAM center is envisioned as a training ground to prepare local high school students for the careers of the future, including advanced manufacturing, robotics, drones, computer coding and other emerging fields.
But it would also serve as a center of discovery and a space of creation for the youngest of elementary and middle schools.
The scope of the center will include not only Mesquite, but Bunkerville, Moapa Valley and the communities of the Arizona Strip.