Picture, if you will, a small auditorium and a few tables set up with small batches of legos, dowels, duct tape, binder clips, and other nick-nacks. Seated in the first couple of rows are sixteen 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders – all somewhat itchy following a day of school and a quick snack. In front of them is just some random dude who had little prepared. The scene plays out something like this:
“Hello, I work for Jet Propulsion Lab. Does anyone know what that is?”
Nearly all hands go up, and most stay up, now ready to ask questions. This is the next fifteen minutes:
“When are we going to Mars?”
“What is the furthest into space you can see?”
“Why’d you blow up that thing around Saturn?”
“Where are the aliens hiding?”
“I saw that movie with the guy who had to plant potatoes.”
“Did you shoot that thing up just that last time?”
“Why do we want to go to Mars?”
“Did you guys find planets outside of the solar system?”
“How come they didn’t let my sister take pictures when we were there last time?”
“What is the other planet you crashed into?”
“Is that the thing that flys in 2022?”
I think I was lucky to answer maybe half … and maybe half of that I answered correctly.
This past Friday I joined dozens of volunteers from JPL who are going out to elementrary schools around Los Angeles to present at individual events for LA’s Best. LA’s Best is the city’s main after school program that provides fun events, academic building blocks, a safe place to meet, and a snack too. JPL volunteers annually to reach out to many of the schools in the program giving normal JPL’s the tools we need to put on a good show.
My visit was to Ferneagles Elementary in Sun Valley. We pick where we get to go to, and I’d like to say I did a deep study to get me to land there but … didn’t. Basically I chose the one Elementary school that was the closest and didn’t get a presentation last year.
Of course, I knew it was going to be fun. I mean, yeah, I don’t have kids, yeah I am perfectly okay with not following the family tradition of becoming a teacher; but I knew well enough that one mention of NASA and I would have these kids eating out of my hand. Plus if they got a little bit out of control, there were gonna be responsible adults (me not included) to reign them in.
The whole thing really just had two parts. There was the random quick fire Q&A session, and an activity. We were given a list of suggestions … so of course I chose the robotic arm challenge. Using a stack of different building items, teams had to design, build, and maneuver arms to pick up toys from one bucket to another. It was pretty rudimentary, but the basic team building and engineering skills were on point.
That and all I had to do was walk around and laugh a little.
Of course it was going to be chaos … but it was so worth it … and at the best of time to do so. It’s still Insanuary in my life, and it was a rough week … right up until 3pm on Friday when those goof balls walked into that auditorium. Honestly, it’s never really lost on me the cool stuff we are working on, but sometimes you need a the curiosity of a kid to understand how cool it is what you do. This upcoming week I have three audits in two time zones, four airplanes, six reports, two projects I need to catch up on, all while we prepare for a period where our team will be short staffed while the work is expected to increase. Ask me on Thursday and you would have gotten dread and anger for what was ahead of me … ask me now and I say ‘bring it on’.
Of course, this is an annual event, and now I feel I am going to have to do it the rest of my career … and why not it was kinda fun.
It’s just next year I better be ready with the actual answers to some of those questions.