BAY RIDGE — The man known as the pope’s astronomer came to Fontbonne Hall Academy in Bay Ridge July 25 to encourage students attending a science-oriented summer camp to learn more about the wonders of the universe that God created.
“The stars are there and they’re beautiful. And they’re not only beautiful to look at, but beautiful to understand,” said Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ, director of the Vatican Observatory.
Brother Consolmagno was the guest speaker at a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) summer day camp sponsored by Fontbonne Hall for the purpose of fostering an interest in these five subject areas in middle school girls.
On the day of his visit, 15 girls who ranged in age from 11 to 13 were there to hear the talk he would give in the science lab. The students hailed from several different schools, both public and Catholic.
Astronomy — the natural science in which the planets, the moon, stars, meteors, and galaxies are studied — is fascinating because it incorporates other subjects like physics, chemistry, and math, Brother Consolmagno explained to the students.
Brother Consolmagno divides his time between the Vatican Observatory’s headquarters at Castel Gandolfo, Italy, and the Mount Graham International Observatory in Safford, Arizona, where the Vatican Observatory operates a telescope.
When asked before his talk what he hoped to impart to the students, Brother Consolmagno said he wanted to dispel the myth that faith and science are at odds.
“I hope they get what I got from my Catholic school upbringing, which was that it never occurred to me that people could think there was a war between science and religion because it was the nuns who taught me the science,” he recalled.
But there was more that he wanted the students to take away, he admitted. “I want to make them realize that studying creation as a scientist is an act of worship, because it’s a place where we encounter the Creator. The joy that we feel when we see the sky, is the joy of encountering God,” he added.
The STEAM summer camp, which took place over the course of two weeks, was part of an effort by Fontbonne Hall’s administration to promote science and technology as career paths for women, Principal Rocco Gentile said.
“What we found is that sometimes younger students, especially young girls, shy away from science when they hear about it for the first time. But by exposing them to a program like this, it opens their eyes up to what the possibilities are. They might be more willing to go into science careers that are some of the highest and most lucrative paying careers,” he explained.
Assistant Principal Maria Iannucci explained that the goal was a simple one. “The STEAM camp in general has been about introducing students to science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics and hoping they become interested in these fields as they think about their futures,” she said.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women made up 48% of the country’s workforce in 2019 but held 27% of the jobs in the fields of science and technology, and females held only 15% of engineering jobs.
There are signs that the emphasis that educators are placing on STEAM is starting to pay off.
Anaya Qayyum, a rising Fontbonne Hall senior, was one of 10 high school students who served as a mentor to the younger girls at the camp. She became interested in science during her years at the school and plans to pursue a career in public health and policy after college.
“We have really great science teachers and we have a wonderful lab here. And I think a lot of that contributed to my desire to go into public health and public policy,” she explained.
Colleen Gentile, a rising seventh grader at Visitation Academy in Bay Ridge, said she would like to be a scientist or a doctor when she grows up.
“This camp has given me the chance to do things I wouldn’t normally do,” she said, adding that she and other girls dissected a shark and built robotic fish.
Another camper, Emma Campanie, a rising eighth grader at the Bay Academy in Sheepshead Bay, said she thought the STEAM summer camp was intriguing. “I have been interested in science and now I’m even more interested,” she added.