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Milestones and Achievements

Family Science NightJourney through the Universe has evolved as a program since its inception in 1991 as a pilot initiative in Washington, DC.  However, it has always embraced—a community approach to reaching the next generation; the need to tailor programming to the strategic needs of the community; the ability to provide a window on the universe and the lives of researchers through direct program involvement by gifted researchers; and special emphasis on underserved communities.  

A brief program history is provided below.  General Program Milestones for the national program, and examples of Community Achievements reflecting the unique needs of each community, are also provided.

A Brief Program History
The Journey through the Universe program began as a pilot initiative overseen by the Laboratory for Astrophysics at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum—the most visited museum on Earth.  Laboratory researchers had been working on a variety of education programs for many years, including gallery and IMAX film development, and presentations for the  visitorship.  It was clear that unlike our colleagues in academia, we had the ability to reach children, families, teachers, and the public, and provide these audiences a window on the process of scientific exploration.  We were also trained to be highly effective in engaging audiences.  Programs were not lectures.  We engaged audiences by helping them to help us tell powerful stories of Earth and the greater cosmos.  We could provide truly authentic experiences in research on the human frontier, and at a time when the National Science Education Standards were being framed and released.

The pilot initiative began with a recognition that inspiring and educating the next generation was truly a community effort.  If you wanted to make a lasting impact you not only needed to engage students directly, but also their teachers and families.  This 'Learning Community Model' was first implemented in 1991-95 using space science content, with the National Air and Space Museum reaching out to Washington/Baltimore school districts.  It was then expanded to the National Zoo with a focus on conservation of endangered species.  Three generations of assessment tools were developed to assess each program component.  Data indicated that not only were children inspired in classrooms by the  researchers, but also their teachers were being given relevant tools and training to continue the journey, and family programming encouraged educational conversations between parent and child for weeks afterward. 

Window on the Universe

The next step was to pilot the initiative in communities nationally to see if success owed to the programs being held at the National Air and Space Museum and the National Zoo.  The question: if you could send a national team of researchers to an underserved community, and these researchers were gifted at communicating their passion to audiences of all ages, could you have the same success with programs if they were held in an old middle school gymnasium, or a community center?

Assessment data for programming in Aroostook County, Maine, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Flint, Michigan, Odessa, Texas, Schenectady New York, and Broken Arrow, Oklahoma indicated the same level of success as in Washington, DC.  The overwhelming view from attendees was that it was a gift to their community for these researchers to come and share their experiences with the community’s children, teachers, and families.  The researchers were viewed as heroes.

Journey through the Universe
Based on the success of the pilot programs, the Journey through the Universe national program was launched at the Challenger Center for Space Science Education with significant grant support from NASA.  The national initiative developed recipes for large­scale programming, with national teams of researchers and educators reaching as many as 12,000 students in a community one classroom at a time, professional development for 100-300 educators, and family/public programs each for 100-2,000 attendees.  The program placed special emphasis on sustainability, with program operations being taken on by the community’s Local Team possibly by their year 3. 
Current Journey through the Universe National Program

In 2005, as the NASA grants were coming to a close, the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education was established at USRA.  The Center formally embraced the Learning Community Model as its central program paradigm, and Journey through the Universe was reconfigured for delivery as a product available to communities nationwide on a strictly cost recovery basis.  Instead of limited federal funds underwriting program operations in a small number of communities, school districts, local community foundations, and local governments would be able to underwrite programming for their communities.   It was recognized that for Journey through the Universe to realize its potential, it needed to be positioned in the marketplace.

The new Journey through the Universe National Program was launched with this Web site in October 2007.

Journey through the Universe
Contact Us
For information, please contact Jeff Goldstein at (301) 395-0770 or via e-mail at info@ncesse.org.
New Content
Journey through the Universe Brochure (PDF, 804 KB)
Become a Journey Community (PDF, 392 KB)
Journey through the Universe Week (PDF, 484 KB)
Journey Program Menu (PDF, 308 KB)
Journey Community Resources (PDF, 344 KB)
Milestones (PDF, 360 KB)
Testimonials (PDF, 244 KB)
©2008, National Center for Earth and Space Science Education