Spotlight on STEM Volunteers, Joe & Rita Wright
What do you get when you combine a retired postal service worker and a mechanical designer? Two EXTRAORDINARY Girl Scout Outdoor STEM Program volunteers, of course! Joe and Rita Wright are and they have been sharing their love and vast knowledge of astronomy with Girl Scouts in our council for over 10 years!
You might call Joe and Rita Professional Amateur Astronomers. Joe oversees the UMKC Observatory and both he and Rita have impressive resumes, accolades and honors for this only being a hobby of theirs!
Joe attributes his initial fascination with astronomy to his father who was a plane mechanic for TWA. He remembers earning his Astronomy Badge at Boy Scout camp and that year his parents bought him a telescope. He would take that telescope to Boy Scout camp outs and would teach others about astronomy. This was just the beginning for Joe! As for Rita, she was fascinated by everything she learned from Joe and it became a passion of hers as well!
Just as fascinating as their path to interest in astronomy is their involvement in Girl Scouts! When Joe relocated the Boy Scout troop he was leading (and the troop he earned is Eagle Scout in) to a new church, the church asked what they were going to do for girls. So, they formed a multi-level Girl Scout troop! While they have a son and a daughter, neither was involved in Scouting. Joe and Rita chose to lead these groups because they felt like it was important to their community.
Combining their love of astronomy and Scouting programs, Joe and Rita were invited to a training at the University of Arizona to learn how to bring more astronomy programs to Girl Scouts in 20114. They worked with other Girl Scout trainers and under Dr. Don McCarthy developing programs to bring back to Girl Scouts of NE Kansas & NW Missouri.
Every spring and fall Joe and Rita put on multiple STEM in the Outdoors Programs at Camp Tongawood for Girl Scouts of all levels. Joe and Rita ensure each program is progressive so that girls can continue building on their knowledge, if they choose. Girl Scouts who attend one of their programs will use Joe and Rita’s incredible equipment like telescopes, infrared cameras, specialized lights and measurement tools that Joe and Rita haul out to Girl Scout camp in an old converted scout trailer! Girls will get to see and touch unique artifacts such as meteoroids and dessert glass. But most importantly, they will be challenged to answer their own questions by two very passionate and caring volunteers who hope to inspire just a little interest into the field of astronomy. “We want girls to learn from their peers if they don’t understand. We don’t just give them the answers, we try to weasel it out of them!” Joe said.
Since 2004 they have participated in eight different astronomical education trainings in their spare time, often writing applications and proposals and securing the funding themselves to cover the costs of their attendance so they can further their knowledge to share with community.
This summer they will travel to Greenbelt, MD to the Goddard Space Flight Center with two Girl Scout Ambassadors from our council for “Reaching for the Stars: NASA Science for Girl Scouts.” We are just one of 10 councils selected to participate in the new 5-year space science education program that will bring together Girl Scouts with scientists, engineers and educators at NASA and beyond! They will help create a new series of Space Science badges for Girl Scouts nationwide and the groundwork to create a council-wide astronomy club!
Also this summer, Joe and Rita have been invited to be part of the staff for the first-ever Girl Scout destination at the University of Arizona-Steward Observatory! As if their summer wasn’t busy enough, they’re also coordinating community events around the Kansas City area for the solar eclipse that will happen on August 21, 2017!
“Most of our joy is in the programs we do for Girl Scouts. It’s seeing the lightbulb for the girls come on. It clicks and that’s what inspires us and rejuvenates us,” Joe said.
Joe and Rita are truly life-long learners who are inspired by Girl Scouts to continue pursuing and sharing their passion for astronomy, and we are so lucky to have them as volunteers!
Be sure you follow our social media channels as we share what Joe, Rita and the two Girl Scout Ambassadors are up to in Goddard, MD this summer at their NASA training!