National Youth Summit: Dust Bowl

The Smithsonian and the National Endowment for the Humanities examine the legacy of the Dust Bowl era through current issues of drought, agricultural sustainability and global food security during a live, interactive discussion with experts. The program will be webcast from the museum to Youth Town Halls at locations across the nation Oct. 17 at 1 p.m. EDT.

In the 1930s, severe drought and extensive farming caused widespread agricultural damage, crop failure and human misery across the Great Plains. Called the “Dust Bowl” because of the immense dust storms created as the dry soil blew away in large, dark clouds, it is considered one of the worst ecological disasters in American history. Millions of acres of farmland were damaged and hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes. Many migrated to California and other western states where the economic conditions during the Great Depression were often no better than those they had left.

The Oct. 17 discussion in Washington, D.C., taking place in the Warner Bros. Theater at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, will be joined by audiences at nine Smithsonian Affiliate museums and the National Steinbeck Center, which will also host regional Youth Town Halls. Participants at the regional Town Hall sites will prerecord questions on video to be played during the live National Youth Summit webcast. The Youth Town Halls will take place at:

The live webcast is available to educators and students through free registration at americanhistory.si.edu/nys. 

The National Youth Summit brings middle and high school students together with scholars, teachers, policy experts, witnesses to history and activists in a national conversation about important events in America’s past that have relevance to the nation’s present and future. The program is an ongoing collaboration between the National Museum of American History, the National Endowment for the Humanities, PBS and museums across the United States in the Smithsonian Affiliations network.

The summit will include segments from award-winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns’ forthcoming film The Dust Bowl and a panel discussion, moderated by Huffington Post science editor Cara Santa Maria, and featuring: Ken Burns, Dust Bowl survivor Cal Crabill, U.S. Department of Agriculture ecologist Debra Peters, fifth-generation farmer Roy Bardole from Rippey, Iowa, and farmer and founder of Anson Mills, Glenn Roberts. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack will welcome the audience through a video statement. Panelists will take questions from students participating in the summit, and offer their own perspectives on what history can teach people about their relationship with the environment.

Programming for the National Youth Summit on the Dust Bowl is produced by the National Museum of American History and the National Endowment for the Humanities in partnership with Smithsonian Affiliations and PBS/WETA.

Smithsonian Affiliations collaborates with museums and educational organizations to share the Smithsonian with people in their own communities and create lasting experiences that broaden perspectives on science, history, world cultures and the arts. More information about Smithsonian Affiliations is available here.

The National Endowment for the Humanities is an independent federal agency created in 1965.  It is one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States. NEH grants typically go to cultural institutions, such as museums, archives, libraries, colleges, universities, public television and radio stations, and to individual scholars. For more information on the NEH, visit https://www.neh.gov/.

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. To learn more about the museum, check americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.

An “Out of this World” Experience

Special thanks to Sonchia Jilek, Executive Director, The Pinhead Institute, a Smithsonian Affiliate in Telluride, Colorado, for this guest post. Part of our Youth Capture the Colorful Cosmos blog series. Seriously Amazing

This summer, I had the opportunity to lead one of our most memorable programs, Youth Capture the Colorful Cosmos program, thanks to a grant from the Smithsonian Youth Access fund.

Courtesy Pinhead Institute.

The grant funded Pinhead’s first “Astrophotography Camp” to help provide underserved middle-school youth access to the resources of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory through the MicroObservatory Telescope Network. As a Smithsonian Affiliate, the first in Colorado, the Pinhead Institute was honored to receive this special grant.

I decided to host this program in our outreach area in Naturita, Colorado. Naturita is a former uranium mining community located approximately 20 miles east of the Colorado-Utah border. With the Uranium Mill closing back in the 1980s, the town now supports a community of only 600 people. Located within this small town is an excellent library that hosts the majority of events for kids and adults. The heart of this town is the Naturita Public Library, named the Best Small Library in America in 2011 by the Library Journal.

The Naturita Public Library played host for our first “Astrophotography Camp.” This camp ran three hours a day for one week in August. Twelve students attended for free, thanks to the funding from the Smithsonian. The size was only limited based on the number of available computers at the library. The students came in with little knowledge of the solar system, galaxies, or the greater universe. They left empowered and engaged by the enormity of space.

Our first day consisted of learning all about telescopes and working on vocabulary. The kids learned the difference between a planet and a nebula and learned how a telescope “sees” differently than a human eye. The curriculum for this first day of our camp was found through the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophotophysics MicroObservatory website. Through online webinars with Mary Dussault and Erin Braswell from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, I felt comfortable using the curriculum and leading this first part of our camp on my own.

Courtesy Pinhead Institute.

Over the next few days of the camp students learned to control the robotic telescopes through the online MicroObservatory to take images of galaxies, planets, nebulas, and the moon. Many of these students had never worked on computers. So, beyond learning about our universe, these students had the opportunity to learn computing skills. The images students selected from the MicroObservatory site were emailed to the students, which they manipulated using special software used by professional astronomers to create beautiful space-based art projects.

Our final day consisted of the students creating their poster projects to exhibit selected telescope images. The girls used a lot of glitter and sparkles to help display their images of the moon and various nebulas. The boys’ posters included references to sport heroes alongside their galaxies and planets.

The poster exhibition went on display at the Naturita Library and in late August. Parents joined their kids as they presented their posters and described what they learned and how they processed their images. It was a great event, reflective of this amazing community, and showcased the student’s passion for sharing what they had learned.

We work with communities surrounding Telluride in Southwestern Colorado. Pinhead aims to teach students of all ages about the wonders of science. We host a number of great programs that teach students about how science is fun, creative, and a part of their daily lives. Our outreach extends from Telluride to Ridgway, to Ouray, to Norwood, and to Naturita, reaching more than 5,000 kids each year, providing thousands of hours of science enrichment opportunities in our remote part of Colorado.

Naturita is a special community, and is one of our favorite places to host our programs. We are always looking for new programs to offer out in this rural town. The Colorful Cosmos program was the perfect fit not only for Pinhead’s capacity, but also the perfect fit for the students in Naturita. Despite our isolated location, I was able to learn everything I needed to know remotely. All of the resources provided through the Smithsonian and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics exceeded my expectations and made this camp an incredible learning experience with only a few hiccups. We are planning on extending the astrophotography camp to our local communities in the very near future.

Courtesy Pinhead Institute.