AIKEN, S.C. – Last year, Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS) Education Outreach programs faced daunting limitations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the organization saw an opportunity to enhance and extend the reach of their broad range of initiatives despite these challenges.
Kim Mitchell, with the SRNS Education Outreach programs, said the staff explored and optimally utilized virtual tools in place of face-to-face communication. SRNS is the management and operations contractor at the Savannah River Site (SRS).
“Adopting a new web-based approach to meet the needs of those participating in our various programs required a fast and steep learning curve for us. This was true for the participating educators and students, as well. That said, the end result was a high level of success combined with a rewarding experience,” said Mitchell.
“By providing new and innovative virtual opportunities to our schools, we were able to reach more students and educators than ever before,” said Taylor Rice, with SRNS Education Outreach programs. “Offering web-based programs allowed schools throughout the region the opportunity to participate in our competitions and programs, without travel being a problem.”
Mitchell explained that the benefits found through efforts to work through the pandemic will continue to play an important role in the future of education outreach. Examples include the creation of a new program, STEMulating Conversations with Savannah River Site Experts, as well as video and virtual reality programs that bring SRS to classrooms throughout South Carolina and Georgia.
“Our Wet Wonders and Feathers in the Forest videos demonstrate the value of this concept,” said Mitchell. “In the past, we brought a limited number of groups of students each year to SRS for a series of ‘hands-on’ environmental science experiments and lessons. Though I'm confident we will return to this popular method, we will also continue to reach deeply into classrooms throughout our region — and beyond — with the current and future videos, plus virtual reality programming.
“We recently completed and made available a science-based video on how a mass spectrometer functions. Students journey through this highly sensitive piece of equipment by riding on an electron beam to demonstrate the spectrometer’s ability to identify the molecular makeup of a substance. It will soon be added to our new web-based library as a virtual reality program as well," Mitchell added.
Demand for these videos is quickly growing. To date, more than 23,000 students have seen the videos, and educators have received corresponding guides.
“It’s important to credit the value of this new approach to members of our video production, graphics, laboratory, research and development engineering, and information technology groups within SRNS,” said Mitchell. “They stepped up and teamed up with us in our hour of need. None of this would have been possible without their assistance.”
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