Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Best Day Job in the Universe, Working at the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center

Where do I even begin to describe our space center? It’s the most unique place in the world. Located inside a nondescript elementary school in suburban Utah, the center houses five starship simulators, a high-tech classroom, and a brand spanking new state-of-the-art portable digital planetarium. I’ve tried many times over the years to classify what we do at the school. I’m a certified teacher, I should be able to list objectives and outcomes and lesson plans. None of them even come close to capturing the experience.

We run several programs- a field trip program for 5th and 6th grade students, summer camps for 10-14yo kids, after school and weekend simulations for ages 10+, planetarium shows for any private group that schedules one, plus whatever new idea the boss dreams up. So why is it the best job in the universe? Because it involves storytelling, astronomy, science fiction, monsters; everything that makes imagination fun.

Let me start with our simulators. Pretend you are part of a private group scheduled to fly in the Odyssey simulator. You arrive at the school and wait in the lobby until all of your group is assembled. Your flight director greets you, gives you a chance to use the restroom, then lines your group up in front of the “transporter”. Another staff member beams your group through, one by one. You emerge on the other side on a starship bridge, lights and controls and engine rumble; the works. Each member of your group is assigned a station and given a uniform. You are trained to work your controls. The flight director briefs your crew on their assignment. Then the real fun begins.

We specialize in immersive simulations of futuristic space travel. Star Trek LARPing, for anyone familiar with the term. Live action role-playing taken to extremes. No, the simulators do not move. This is not an amusement park ride. This is interactive storytelling with lights and sound effects and actors. The ship is as real as your imagination. Monsters and aliens may attack. Your ship may be sabotaged. You may crash into an asteroid and die. The stories are never the same because the flight director plays off your comments and actions, changing the story as needed.

And I get paid to tell you these stories. That’s one perk of my job. I love hearing the crew scream in terror, or cheer as they manage to complete their mission despite the threat of imminent death. I love the magic we create. I love seeing kids transformed by their experience, learning that they can stand up for their convictions no matter who opposes them. I love the excitement and the energy of our staff of sometimes obnoxious teens.

I love my job. Flight simulator is only one of my titles, though. I also claim planetarium director, curriculum specialist, costumer, story consultant, office assistant, Klingon lunchlady, and Ultimate Queen of the Galaxy. Really. My boss told me I could have it in lieu of a raise.

One of our 17yo flight directors, a male, just said, “Where is my Hannah Montana wig?” Yep, I love my job.

15 comments:

  1. His Hannah Montana wig? OMG. I can never step foot inside that school now - I'm too terrified. Sounds like great fun, Jaleta. The closest thing we have in WA state is the space camp run by the Boeing Museum of Flight - they do a simulated space shuttle mission, but it's a much drier experience than immersive LARPing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The rest of his costume was just as terrifying. At least he wasn't using the pink tutu and silver hot pants. Wait, he *was* wearing the silver hot pants.

    Our center isn't dry at all. We're so entertaining we have kids begging their parents to sell off siblings so they can come to camp. We have kids who do it every year for their birthday and every other event they can talk their parents into funding. The local Star Trek clubs come at least once a year. We had a local business send all of their programmers to our center for "management training seminars in leadership and teamwork."

    If you are ever headed to Utah, drop me a line. I'll be happy to arrange at least a tour for you.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This sounds great! I wish it had been around when I was a kid.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Is it just for kids? I'd love to visit your simulators. :D

    ReplyDelete
  5. Can I hate? Just a teensy bit? It sounds so much better than the crappy day job I slave at. I'll borrow a term from the kids. Epically better.

    *sigh*

    ReplyDelete
  6. I didn't say it paid well, it doesn't. But the rest of it more than makes up for the tiny paycheck. (My hubby makes the money at our house, allowing me to write and play at my day job. To borrow a term, he's the Husband of Awesome.)

    ReplyDelete
  7. You certainly have an interesting job, Jaleta!

    You know, the most amazing thing is that you've probably inspired the imagination of thousands of children doing what you do - and who knows what those kids may grow up aspiring to be - astronauts, scientists, authors...anything in the universe!

    ReplyDelete
  8. How cool! I think I need to go to Utah now : )

    ReplyDelete
  9. That's such a cool job, Jaleta! Fun and inspiring. More power to you! :)

    ReplyDelete
  10. Oh yeah. Makes me want to go on a road trip. It sounds like you have a blast Jaleta, and just think of the next generation of SFR readers you're inspiring! :)

    ReplyDelete
  11. I'll post next week on the educational philosophy behind the center. I'm a certified teacher, I should be using that BS to shovel something...

    Thanks for the support and comments! Please let me know if you are coming to Utah. I'd love to show you around.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I really envy you and your crew the ability to just let go and "play". And in service to such great goals! I find it really hard to capture that aspect of my childhood (yeah, I know, it was such a loooong time ago!). The only way I can do it is in my writing. But, of course, LARPing is the way kids learn best, though a lot of schools seem to have forgotten that. Thanks for doing what you do and for sharing it with us.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Oooh, this sounds wonderful, Jaleta. What an amazing job. I'd give my eye teeth to be able to visit, but I'm in the UK and much as I'd love to visit the States it doesn't look likely. But how fantastic to have such a fun job and to know that you're also helping educate the Next Generation!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Wow is this hella cool. Thanks for the report, UQG Clegg!

    ReplyDelete

We love to hear from you! Comments must pass moderation to be published - spammers will be zapped.

SFR Brigade Bases of Operation