Levi Snodgrass and Mariselda Parra-Martinez view Earth through virtual reality goggles as seen from space. The real time view was just one of the fun and exciting activities on board the Trailblazer during its visit to the Sutton County Library Friday, June 29, 2018, in Sonora. The technology is made possible through a virtual reality satellite orbiting the Earth.


KIMBERLEY MEYER | THE DEVIL’S RIVER NEWS
Levi Snodgrass and Mariselda Parra-Martinez view Earth through virtual reality goggles as seen from space. The real time view was just one of the fun and exciting activities on board the Trailblazer during its visit to the Sutton County Library Friday, June 29, 2018, in Sonora. The technology is made possible through a virtual reality satellite orbiting the Earth. KIMBERLEY MEYER | THE DEVIL’S RIVER NEWS

Sonora kids eagerly awaited a turn to board a 40-foot mobile science museum known as the Trailblazer Friday morning, June 29, 2018, during a limited and maybe once in a lifetime stop at the Sutton County Library.

Upon entering the trailblazer, children were wide-eyed with excitement at seeing themselves as an infrared image on a screen directly in front of them.

They squealed with excitement as they made their way through a variety of stations aimed at teaching them about energy, space, weather, biotechnology and aerodynamics.

Local volunteer docents provided explanations, demonstrations and assisted the interactions with a variety of science-based activities ranging from looking at space through virtual or real time goggles, generating an electrical charge, recording their heart rate and robotic surgery - all designed to help kids develop a desire for more knowledge.

The experience was made possible with grant funding from the Tocker Foundation and the work of Sutton County Librarian Deborah Brown.

The Tocker Foundation supports rural libraries in Texas with populations of under 12,000 people. Since 1992, the Tocker foundation has focused on grant distributions in small, rural Texas libraries serving populations of 12,000 people or less as a way of contributing to the needs of such communities.

Brown said she has been working for months to be able to bring the Trailblazer to Sonora.

“The process to get it here was a lengthy one, but well worth it,” Brown said. “After contacting the Texas Alliance for Minorities in Engineering or TAME office and letting them know the Sutton County Public Library was interested in having a Trailblazer visit our town, it was hurry up and wait while they checked the size of our county, if they had ever visited here before, would we be close to another rural library they would be travelling to, etc. They would let us know if we met the qualifications to apply for a grant to have them visit us. After several months of waiting, word finally came that the library could apply for a grant from the Tocker Foundation to bring the Trailblazer to Sonora. That was as exciting as winning the lottery would be!”

Aside from the exceptional hands-on learning opportunity and interactive fun the mobile facility provides children, the Trailblazer is unique in that it is the only interactive science and engineering museum on wheels in the State of Texas.

Part of the grant process required writing an essay explaining why the Trailblazer should visit the community. Brown said the explanation was easy.

“Living so far from the big cities where everything is just readily available, the chance to explore a science museum that has interactive stations covering space, energy, biotechnology, aerodynamics and weather is something everyone needs a chance to experience once in their lifetime,” Brown said.

As children were introduced to concepts and principals they were encouraged to think about how they could apply them now as well as in the future. The experience was also designed to help identify various careers that are available in a variety of fields.

After spending time practicing using a robotic arm just like those used in surgeries today and exploring space through virtual real time goggles, Levi Snodgrass said he wants to be an engineer when he grows up.

“I want to be an Aerodynamics Engineer,” Snodgrass said. “And, I want to build things to help doctors.”

Standing nearby, J.V. Willis, Coordinating Facilitator, was all smiles.

Willis taught science in the classroom before joining the Texas Alliance for Minorities in Engineering (TAME) as a facilitator.

Before retiring from the classroom, he taught sixth grade science and he said he always knew the importance of allowing students to take part in experiments to help ensure their learning. He said experiments were always part of his science classes.

Like his teaching, his work with the organization’s one-of-a-kind science museum on wheels encourages kids to learn through hands on activities and experimentation.

As a teacher he strived for the moments when the light bulb comes on and they understand. The trailblazer offers nonstop moments like that all day long

For the past eight years Willis has been traveling around the United States bringing science to kids everywhere. Still able to enjoy time at home in Schulenburg, with his family, Willis said he thinks his present job is his best job yet because he gets to travel and work with kids. It is the best of both worlds.

“Look at their excitement [referring to children exiting the Trailblazer],” Willis said. “The kids get so excited. They love it. It’s the excitement that keeps me going.”