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John C. Wells Planetarium

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Space Explorers Summer Camps: BE the Scientist!

The most wonderful, exciting, and educational thing I've done since moving into this area 10 years ago...It really 'Rocks"! John B. Captain, US Navy, Retired, Grottoes. Read full letter ...

For nearly a decade, it was my dream to someday send my daughter to Virginia Tech.  Two months ago, I began to rethink that dream when my daughter, Megan, attended space camp at JMU - Anita, Harrisonburg. Read full letter...

We seek to inspire and excite the next generation of scientists and engineers. These engaging, hands-on, inquiry-based camps will demonstrate to students that science is constantly changing, constantly uncovering new clues about why our universe is the way it is and not some other way. We will ask questions and then use the scientific method to try to answer them! We will investigate the size and scale of our solar system, learn about the robotic exploration of it, and learn about our own planet Earth and our fragile environment! Special Space Explorers camp visitors may include JMU science professors, engineers working at NASA on new missions, and perhaps even a NASA astronaut! Camps will take place and make extensive use of the John C. Wells Planetarium, a $2M, state-of-the-art, hybrid planetarium located on the campus of James Madison University.

The opportunity for students to come on campus, use facilties, interact with staff, and be successful is a true game-changer. -- Donna Whitly-Smith '75, Assistant Superintendent, Page County Public Schools. Read full letter ...

Please be aware: The John C. Wells planetarium strives to bring cutting-edge science to JMU as well as to the larger Shenandoah Valley community. Hence, the staff presents established science that is based on consensus from the scientific community. We will present the scientific evidence on topics such as evolution, the Big Bang, age of the Earth, and climate change. All of our full dome shows, activities, and live star talks make reference and begin with the premise that the age of the Universe is 13.8 billion years old, and that our Sun and the Solar System formed ~5 billions years ago. Our staff will not alter their presentations when discussing what some consider controversial science topics. 

John C Wells Planetarium, Space Camp 2013

Space Explorers Testimonial Letters

Michael Murphy, PhD, Chief Information Officer, Blue Ridge Community College

Dear Dr Benson and Dr. Brakke,

I wanted to share my appreciation for the fantastic work by JMU's Outreach program, particularly Shanil Virani's work with the JMU planetarium and the Space Explorer's Camp. My family and I moved to the Harrisonburg area in 2012 and quickly found connections to JMU's planetarium through Shanil's kindness and passion for teaching. My 4 year old son Canton met Shanil during one of the planetarium's public shows after correcting an adult's answer to a space question. While having your young child correct an adult can be embarrassing as a parent, Shanil took great interest in my son and encouraged us to attend additional planetarium shows as well as the public science talks. Later in the year, Shanil provided a special invitation to Canton to participate in the Space Explorer's Camp even though he was too young per the posted age groups. These interactions have brought out such excitement in my son!

Shanil's passion for education and science is apparent to anyone who spends just a little time with him. I say with absolute certainty that Shanil's compassion and sincere interest in sharing the world of space and astronomy with my then 4 year old son has encouraged my son to make education a priority. Shanil's efforts may very well lead to a future astronaut or scientist. Whatever path my son takes in life, Shanil and the Space Explorer's Camp have had a profound impact on his development -- an impact for which I will always be grateful.

In my professional career, I work with faculty members in higher education every day. Shanil exemplifies today's definition of an amazing educator. JMU is very fortunate to have Shanil as part of the University's faculty. I will always be grateful for his amazing work!

Anita H. Harrisonburg, Va

Dear Mr. Alger,

For nearly a decade, it was my dream to someday send my daughter to Virginia Tech.  Two months ago, I began to rethink that dream when my daughter, Megan, attended space camp at JMU.

On the first day, she was hesitant but, as we walked in, I encouraged her to try it for one day.  When I picked her up that afternoon, her outlook had completely changed.  She had made two new friends, learned numerous new things and was eager to go back.  Each day, she was bubbling over with new knowledge, excited to share what she had learned and to describe the hands-on projects she participated in.  As a parent, my heart was so full that week, to see Megan so enthusiastic and energized about science, learning, and viewing the universe in a new way.   In 3rd grade, a classmate told my daughter “science isn’t for girls”.  From that day on, she had suppressed her love of science in front of her friends.  While attending the camp, she was presented with many positive female role models who were not only interested in science, but excelled in it.  What a huge difference that has made!  She no longer feels the need to hide her enthusiasm.  In fact, she recently listed science as her favorite subject on a biography project at school.  I think I speak for the majority of the space camp parents when I say I was very impressed with this program.  When I attended the closing ceremony for space camp, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of pride.  I was proud of my daughter, proud of the amazing student counselors, proud of the staff who made camp happen and proud that JMU is a part of our community.    

In addition to providing many local children with a valuable learning experience, this camp provides the community with a positive image of JMU.  All too often, the only stories we hear about JMU are the negative ones splashed across the headlines or reported on the local news.  Programs such as space camp, the weekend planetarium shows and the monthly star parties at Astronomy Park show residents that the students responsible for the negative headlines are only a small percentage of the JMU community.  You have students willing to take a week of their summer to teach and mentor young kids.  You have students who spend a Saturday afternoon operating the planetarium, sharing their knowledge with the public.  You have students attending the star parties who are friendly and polite.  These things highlight the positive side of JMU.  Additionally, they show middle and high school students that they don’t necessarily have to attend a bigger school to get a great education because they have a viable option right here at home!

Kudos to Shanil Virani, Katie LaPira and the staff and students who made space camp possible!  Thank you for providing affordable, accessible learning opportunities for area children and for your support of these programs.  We are already looking forward to next year’s camp.

John B - Captain, US Navy, Retired. Grottoes Va

Dear Sir,

I just returned from your University following the completion of the first JMU Sumer Space Camp 2013. I brought my grandson from WV on Monday, 1 July and with permission prceeded to stay for the 5 day program. It was the most wonderful, exciting and educational thing I've done since moving to this area 10 years ago.

I must tell you this space camp program was awesome and fits perfectly with your "Dream Big" for an "Engaged Universiy". I've heard Dr. Shanil Virani speak at several civic organizations (i.e., Weyers Cave Ruritan Club & the Central Shenandoah Valley Military Officers of America). In my opinion he is a "natural" in your desires for JMU as a national model of engagement.

I do hope and recommend that this space camp program for middle schoolers becomes an established tradition for JMU. It really 'Rocks'!

Donna Whitley-Smith (’75), assistant superintendent for instruction in Page County Public Schools

The camp turned out to be such a wonderful experience for our students.  I can’t thank you enough for your efforts ‘above and beyond’ to make it all possible. You may never know the true impact of the interest that was sparked because you took the time and made the effort to include students who normally would not have had the opportunity to participate….. Many of our students see JMU/Harrisonburg as a far away place — almost a foreign country. They often come from families who have not had a member attend college.  The opportunity for students to come on campus, use facilties, interact with staff, and be successful is a true game-changer.  It helps students redefine who they are as learners and who they can be in terms of higher education.

Space Camp Makes News

Ant butts and science that sucks you in

Aug 23, 2013
Be the Change Blog

Stargazer Group, Planetarium Turn Focus Upward

July 23, 2013
Daily News-Record

Students explore out of this world experience

July 21, 2013
The News-Virginian (Waynesboro)

To Infinity And Beyond

July 19, 2013
Daily News-Record

Former Astronaut Speaks to Local Space Camp Explorers

July 18, 2013

NASA-sponsored Space Camp to be Held at JMU

July 2013