Ant butts and science that sucks you in

Recently, I listened to a series on Radio Lab about parasites. What I learned was jaw-dropping. Radio Lab’s approach — a little zany and definitely engaging — enhances the science. It sucks you in.  Who can resist a title like “I like Ant Butts and I Cannot Lie.” And who wouldn’t be fascinated to learn about the innovator responsible for the advent of the American outhouse? (I’ll tell you who it was at the end. Prepare to be surprised!)

John Lehman and John Buckholtz, science-campers

John Lehman and John Buckholtz, science-campers

I guess I had parasites (and science) on my mind when I saw a letter to President Jon Alger from the grandfather of a recent attendee of this summer’s weeklong Space Camp.

Mr. John Buckholtz wrote:

I just returned from your University following the completion of the first JMU Summer Space Camp 2013. I brought my grandson from Lewisburg, WV, on Monday, 15 July and with permission proceeded to stay for the five-day program. It was the most wonderful, exciting and educational thing I’ve done since moving into this area 10 years ago.

I must tell you this space camp program was awesome and fits perfectly with your “Dream Big” for and “Engaged University.”  I’ve heard Dr. Shanil Virani speak at several civic organization (ie. Weyers Cave Ruritan Club and 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!”


John W. Buckholtz, Captain, U.S. Navy, Retired

In real estate, there’s a motto: The three most important factors in selling a house are — location, location, location. I wonder if the three most important factors in persuading students to pursue science might be — engagement, engagement, engagement. Radio Lab often has me wishing I had applied myself more to science when I was a student.

Fortunately for budding scientists, the opportunities to catch a genuine and lifelong enthusiasm for science are many. In addition to Space Camp, JMU’s Office of Outreach and Engagement offers Saturday Morning Physics, Techfacturing and College for Kids that includes some science tracks. Space Camp, a joint venture with JMU’s  Department of Physics and Astronomy, was led by Shanil Virani, director of the John C. Wells Planetarium.

It follows that if we have more students entering the sciences, then we will certainly have more life-changing science discovered. Who knew, after all, that hook worms might cure allergies and that  toxoplasmosis (a parasite found in cats) can control the minds of infested rats!

Space_CampThere’s one more dimension to this summer’s “engaging” Space Camp that’s equally important.

In another letter about Space Camp, Donna Whitley-Smith (’75), assistant superintendent for instruction in Page County Public Schools, wrote:

“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. “

An engaged university is a place where ivory towers are transformed into bridges of opportunity — and Space Camp is a stellar example.  You can see more here:  YouTube video about Space Camp.

As for the outhouses. According to Radio Lab, John D. Rockefeller, in order to develop businesses in the South in the early 20th Century, sent a team of scientists who discovered the prevalence of a parasite that had infested many Southerners. One simple and effective remedy turned out to be the lowly outhouse. Who knew?

Thanks to Shannon Lehman for providing the photo of her father and son. And thanks to John Buckholtz and Donna Whitley-Smith for permission to share their letters.


About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

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