Discovering New Ways to Pursue Your Passion

Chrystal Zajchowski attended Science Camp in 2014 just before entering her senior year in high school. In 2016, after completing her freshman year at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Chrystal returned as Science Camp’s first counselor-in-training. Just before starting her sophomore classes, Chrystal took some time to write to me about her Science Camp experience. With her permission, I am sharing it here. Thanks for sharing, Chrystal!


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Chrystal at South Point beach cleanup in 2014

This summer, I had the opportunity to be Science Camps of America’s first counselor in training. I was a camper two years prior and that experience was like no other, with trips all around Hawaii to the Imiloa Astronomy Center, the Keck Observatory Headquarters, Volcano National Parks, and even to Black Sands Beach. I knew I wanted to come back, I just didn’t know how. I was the oldest camper that session by two years, so it was hard to fit in with the younger campers. Finding myself talking to the counselors and spending most of my time with them throughout the camp, the counselors and I believed a new position should be made.

The next summer, it was made known to me that the position was made. Just my luck, I was too busy getting ready for college and I could not take advantage of the opportunity. My first year of college, I was having some difficulties in my physics class, so I thought that astronomy wasn’t for me. I had carefully thought about what other majors would interest me, or what else I could see myself doing, but nothing prevailed. I researched the astronomy major at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where I study, and I found out that there are different ways to get your astronomy degree that didn’t have to be a Bachelor of Science degree in Astrophysics. Changing my track to a Bachelor of Arts degree in Astronomy, I found that I can study what I really love and not be as stressed out. I thought that at Science Camps of America, I could talk to scientists and science teachers to make sure that this is what I wanted to do.

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Chrystal (center) with campers and staff hiking to see lava at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Finally, keeping some time for science after a long first year as an astronomy major at UMass Amherst, I boarded my flight to Hawaii. This summer has been an amazing learning experience for me. I always knew it would be, but it was much more than I expected.

Learning how to deal with teenagers and learning how to work with other adults at the same time was just the start of it. So much science was learned as well from determining the salinity of the Waiopae Tide Pools, to realizing that the constellations are something I need to know to be a better astronomy teacher in the future.

This whole experience has made me come to realize many things. After my difficult first year in college, trying to zero in what I really wanted to be doing, and how I could make that happen; I have come to realize that teaching high school students is what I would really like to be doing in a few years. Though I have never really wanted to teach, ever, I have come to realize that teaching would be something I am good at and something that I would enjoy doing.


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Chrystal working on her s’mores technique.

Climate change a big challenge, but there are reasons for hope

Note: This article was originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser May 5, 2016.

We love catch-phrases, especially in our movies. It wouldn’t be a Star Wars movie if we didn’t hear “I have a bad feeling about this” every so often.

My favorite catch-phrase, though, is from Star Trek. Whenever things go wrong, a character shouts “I can fix that” and charges off to do just that.

Climate change is an incredibly difficult challenge. A recent letter writer to this newspaper shared that they were tired of reading only about the problems of climate change, with no solutions. Another writer responded by saying that there were no solutions as long as human beings keep acting like human beings.

I used to think that World History was the most depressing class I ever took – one tale after another of humans exploiting humans. Now I am taking a class called Ocean Environmental Challenges and it is even more depressing. And yet I am still optimistic. To explain why, my top ten reasons for hope, and more, for the future:

  • The End of Fossil Fuels. Whether you believe we will run out of oil or that alternative energy solutions will be embraced, the use of fossil fuels is coming to an end, probably within this century.
  • Compostable Plastic. Unlike today’s petroleum-based plastics that never completely break down, future plastics will be made with materials that are made from natural, bio-degradable materials.
  • Plastic-eating Bacteria. Scientists have developed bacteria that can consume petroleum-based plastic, breaking it down into harmless materials. This will take time, but will eventually eliminate the plastic we have already created.
  • Carbon Dioxide Capture. Systems that absorb carbon dioxide from smoke stacks and along roadsides are being developed that will prevent some carbon dioxide from getting into the atmosphere as well as take carbon dioxide out of the air.
  • Concrete made from Carbon Dioxide. This is being done now and it is great because it not only stores the carbon dioxide it also provides a market for its capture.
  • Solar Windows. Engineers are creating windows that are also solar collectors. And it’s not just windows, it’s solar paints, shingles, and more. Scientists are discovering how to merge solar power collection capability into virtually any material.
  • Medical Science. There are so many breakthroughs in medical science, technology, and engineering that it is mind-boggling to think what the future will bring. With new technologies, much of it available at very low cost, people will be able to live much longer, healthier lives.
  • The Ocean Cleanup Project. Founded by a teenager, Boyan Slat, Ocean Cleanup has created a system that can potentially remove vast quantities of plastic from the ocean.
  • Vertical Farming. Scientists have discovered techniques, such as aquaponics, that will allow food to be grown using much less land, less fertilizer, and fewer natural resources, such as water. Vertical farms allow food to be grown close to where it will be consumed, eliminating the huge resources and costs incurred transporting food.
  • Young People. To previous generations, the world was a vast place divided into many regions that had little influence on each other. Not so for today’s young people. They see the world as one contiguous entity, where everything – countries, people, oceans, and butterflies – is connected.

This gives them a great perspective and a full sense of the need to protect and restore our world. They understand that the solutions to our world’s challenges lie within each of them individually.

They look around, see those challenges, and say, “I can fix that.”

Science Olympiad “Judge”

The email that evening seemed innocent enough. I knew Professor Krupp a little, but I had never taken a class from him. “Mike”, it said, “I am looking for judges for the Science Olympiad, and one of your professors recommended you. Would you like to be a judge for the regional at Windward Community College?”

Windward Science Olympiad 10 Years of Awesome

Hmmm, I’m a student, not a teacher, but can I be a judge? Why not? I thought, it can’t be that hard. So with images of myself (not quite in wig and robe but almost) showing up on the big day to pass judgment I quickly replied. “No problem. Thanks for asking and sign me up.”

The easiest fish ever caught.

The next day, the details arrive in my inbox. Uh-oh. What’s this it says? Judges have to WRITE the test??? My topic was “Ice and Water in the Solar System.” It had been a while since I had taken Astronomy! And in between I had Chemistry, which of course erased all previous knowledge from my brain. Panic set in until I remembered that there is a higher power with the answers: Google.

Google has the answers and the answer to this turned out to be that this was a new topic for 2014 so therefore no previous tests were to be found! Now I was in trouble. I would actually have to – gack! arrgh! eek! – write the test.

I had never written a test before, so this was a challenge. I plunged in, and bit by bit got it done. Of course, it wasn’t just a test, it was a Science Olympiad, and I’m in the business of making Science interesting, so I had better make this an interesting test.
When I finally got a first draft done I gave it to two middle school science teachers that I know for feedback. “Was it hard enough?” I asked. They threw the test at me. Apparently it was a bit TOO interesting: between them, they got 3 questions right (out of 50).

Hawaii Science OlympiadAnyway, it finally all came together, and with the great help of Professor Laychek we were able to use the Imaginarium planetarium for our section of the Olympiad, which I think made it fun and interesting for the teams that participated. I enjoyed my part very much, despite the challenge, and further had the opportunity to coach a couple of the teams that participated to prepare for the State Olympiad, which was also a really great and fun experience.

Of course, a project like this often has a peanut gallery, and I had a great one: all the teachers I know. Because only they (and now me a little bit) appreciate what a challenge it is and how much time and work it takes to write a good test, not to mention grading it and providing feedback. Thank you, teachers.

Visit the Hawaii Science Olympiad Website at http://www.hsso.org/