Getting Dirty: Why children need to be outdoors

Story and photos by KATIE HARRINGTON

A semi-weathered copy of Thoreau’s “Walden is perched on the top shelf of an IKEA bookcase in Nick Harrison’s bedroom, next to a collection of guidebooks, a stack of old climbing magazines and a French pocketknife — the handle made from the trunk of a cork tree. Harrison’s name is engraved on the blade.

A large, unfinished painting of southern Utah’s Castleton Tower is nestled into the corner of the room, near a box of paintbrushes and a piece of notebook paper with the title “2012 TO DO LIST” written across the top:

Keep a clear mind. Visit a different continent. Finish Castleton painting. Push my physical limits. Change someone’s life for the better.

Harrison, a 20-year-old student and a “liftie” at Alta Ski Area, grew up with the Wasatch Mountains in his backyard, inspired by their mystifying allure.

“I am drawn to the outdoors,” Harrison said. “These mountains are my constant source of motivation. I draw them. I climb them. But I didn’t fully appreciate what they had to offer until I got older. Survival, self-reliance, serenity: these are all things you can only truly learn by getting outside.”

But kids today don’t seem to see the outdoors the same way Harrison does.

Crowson (left) and Harrison pack their car for a climbing trip in April.

According to a national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, kids ages eight to 18 spend an average of 7.3 hours engaging in entertainment media in a typical day. This amounts to more than 53 hours per week.

Be Out There — a National Wildlife Federation campaign that hopes to reconnect children to the natural world — notes that a study in 2005 revealed that children are spending half as much time outdoors than they did 20 years ago.

Neil Crowson — Harrison’s roommate and adventurer counterpart — grew up down the street from Harrison, spending his childhood skiing in the Wasatch Mountains and rock climbing with his father.

“It’s really important for a kid to go out and get himself in the dirt, jump off rocks and cut his knees up, and get on the mountain at a young age,” Crowson said. “If kids do that, then they come to develop ambitions and learn to respect the mountains.”

Both Harrison and Crowson say they have — in one way or another — been defined by their outdoor surroundings, that growing up with the mountains as their playground has given them a sense of place and purpose in a seemingly uncertain world.

The walls of their living room are covered from ceiling to floor with personal photographs that share a common theme: being outside.

The gear room in the basement of their bungalow-style house is crammed with racks of ropes, climbing gear, bikes, skis, backpacks, tents and camp stoves—and a looming odor that can only be created from years of adventuring outdoors.

“I can’t ever see myself leaving the Wasatch completely,” Crowson said. “The people that founded these canyons, both in skiing and in climbing, have also founded tons of areas around the west coast. But you always see them coming back to Salt Lake and that’s because we hold the mountains with such high regard. They define us.”

But that defining power of the mountains — of the outdoors in general — is becoming increasingly sparse among today’s youth, as an increasingly technology-fueled lifestyle drives kids indoors — and keeps them there.

“It’s hard to learn a key set of morals as a kid when the world is changing so rapidly and technology is always advancing,” Crowson said. “It’s always hard to know how to become a man. But the beautiful thing about the outdoors is that it’s a constant. It’s timeless. So the same set of values that existed 100 years ago still exists today.”

Outdoor Nation — a community-based program created by young people, for young people — was founded in 2010 to address the growing disconnect between today’s youth and the outdoors.

“America is in a current state of crisis where its youth are choosing technology over nature, Xboxes (check the proper spelling on X box) over healthy lifestyles,” Outdoor Nation said on its website. “Green spaces in urban areas are either unsafe or non-existent. Families, schools, and media have failed to engage and excite youth about the benefits of the outdoors.”

Judy Brady, a licensed clinical social worker in Salt Lake City, said being outdoors is especially important for a child’s development because it fosters self-esteem.

“One of the ways in which we gain self-esteem is through task mastery,” Brady said. “When a child is outside, he or she gains personal self worth by problem solving, by completing new and challenging tasks.”

A series of studies published in a 2009 edition of Journal of Environmental Psychology found that being outside in nature makes people feel more alive.

“In vital states people demonstrate better coping and report greater health and wellness,” the study reported. “Being outdoors has been proposed to be good for health and well-being because when outdoors, people tend to both interact more with others and get more exercise.”

The sunlight also triggers serotonin and dopamine production, neurotransmitters that help maintain positive feelings in the brain, Brady said. Cases of seasonal depression are seen more often in the winter months because there is less sunlight and people spend less time outdoors.

“When we are surrounded by all man-made objects and man-made ideas — products of our own society — we become dysfunctional,” Crowson said. “We forget how to respond. We are alienated from each other because we are constantly around each other. When you are in the outdoors and there’s nothing but organic sounds, it gives you a chance to really bond with other humans.”

Allison Librett — a lawyer and fitness instructor in Salt Lake City — said that exposing her children to the outdoors at a young age has helped them establish and maintain relationships.

Librett has a nine-year-old and an 11-year-old, both of whom spend their summers at outdoor camps with children of diverse abilities and backgrounds.

“Fresh air, exercise, mental stimulation — these are all such important things for child’s development,” Librett said. “My kids have had the opportunity growing up to interact with the world around them, to know what their imprint is and that they have a purpose.”

Librett said that when her children spend long periods indoors — especially when they are on the computer or playing video games — she notices that they are much more anxious, emotional and frustrated.

Those emotions disappear when her children are engaged in outdoor activities.

Harrison said he hopes that today’s youth will realize what adventuring outdoors has to offer.

“Kids should be excited to get out, to be outside, to breathe fresh air, to see a full moon and a bunch of stars, and hear the coyotes,” Harrison said. “That’s the sickest thing to me: just hearing and seeing and feeling the world as it is. ”

And if Harrison’s convictions about the benefits of nature aren’t heartfelt and persuasive enough, then perhaps a passage marked in his copy of “Walden” is:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

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Beyond the medical standard: University of Utah offers wide array of beneficial research

Story, Photo, Video, and Audio by JAVAN RIVERA

Additional Photos courtesy of CAROLYN STWERTKA and CRAIG GRITZEN.

Craig Gritzen doing fieldwork in the Great Basin Desert, in Juab County Utah, 2009. Working with the sin nombre virus requires the use of specialized headgear to prevent human infection.

It’s a delicate and time-consuming process.

University of Utah graduate researcher Craig Gritzen spends his days at the U’s Dearing Lab viewing parasites through microscopes and testing for the sin nombre virus. However, it’s not medical research he’s doing, but biological studies of parasite and virus correlation in Utah’s population of deer mice.

The U is well known for being on the cutting edge of medical research and innovation. With an entire section of the campus dedicated to a fully-functioning research hospital, it can be easy to forget that the university also serves as a quality institution of scientific research that spans from biology and immunology, to meteorology and paleontology and more.

Gritzen is just one of the many students and professionals at the U doing important research that rarely gets the press of its better-known  medical counterparts. But that doesn’t make it any less vital.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for students to pursue their interests,” Gritzen said. “You really find yourself as a scientist when you do research.”

Doing research is exactly how Gritzen spends most of his days. A graduate student pursuing his master’s in biology, the core of Gritzen’s work is investigating possible correlations between the numerous parasites that can be found in the guts of deer mice, and the deadly sin nombre virus that the rodents carry.

Gritzen’s work represents an important step forward in understanding the dangers of at least one type of Hantavirus, a genus of virus that can be fatal to humans if inhaled. He hopes his research can help to track sin nombre virus infection in future deer mice populations and provide more warning for the people who live in deer mice populated areas, such as Emigration Canyon.

“Understanding what parasites are infecting these mice and identifying the effects of the parasites on the mice will allow for researchers to understand whether the parasites will increase or decrease the likelihood of the mice becoming infected by the virus, which in turn can determine the likelihood of humans getting infected due to close proximity to the mice,” Gritzen said.

Protospirura numidica is just one of the many parasites that can infect the digestive tract of Deer Mice.

Gritzen’s research could benefit Utahns who live in close proximity to the mice, who are, by default, at risk of inhaling the rodents’ feces and contracting sin nombre virus. The virus, which fills human lungs with liquid, literally causes the infected human to slowly drown.

“Humans who live in close quarters with the mice are the ones in danger of being infected,” Gritzen said. “It [his research] is important for people who live in environments where the mice can live and thrive.”

Of course, biology isn’t the only field of lesser known, but important research going on at the U. Two graduate researchers at the U’s Atmospheric Sciences Department are working on separate research projects that could shape the future of pollution regulation and legislation, and save energy investors millions of dollars.

Carolyn Stwertka is one of those researchers. She is working on a revolutionary new atmospheric model that could help us truly understand and accurately measure carbon dioxide emissions.

An inversion creeps across the city as Carolyn Stwertka hikes up the Grandeur Trail to gather carbon dioxide density measurements of Salt Lake City’s surface air.

Stwertka, a graduate researcher in the U’s Atmospheric Sciences Department,  is working with a unique set of carbon dioxide measuring sensors set up across the Salt Lake Valley that help measure and compare carbon dioxide output across the valley and into the upper atmosphere. The outcome, Stwertka explained, should help scientists truly understand the amount of carbon dioxide circulation in our atmosphere and its effect on the population.

These sensors, she said, represent the “longest standing, consistently running set of stations in a city in the world.”

Part of what makes Stwertka’s research unique, besides the network of established carbon dioxide sensors, is that Salt Lake City represents an exceptional staging ground for her research and the development of her carbon dioxide tracking model.

“Essentially, Salt Lake City is a great place to study [carbon dioxide circulation] because it’s so isolated,” Stwertka said. “It’s very difficult for air to drain out of this valley.”

What has Stwertka discovered so far?

With research that has spanned from crunching years of data, to a hike up Millcreek Canyon’s  Grandeur Peak lugging a backpack full of electronic, atmospheric measuring equipment, Stwertka’s unpublished results seem to indicate an interesting atmospheric affect.

Carbon dioxide seems to create a sort of bubble around cities like Salt Lake, which  is quite similar to another scientific phenomenon known as the “heat island effect.”

“That [her research] is important because the human population is growing, more people are moving into cities, and more carbon dioxide is being added in the atmosphere,” Stwertka said. “If there is going to be [future] regulation on carbon dioxide, they should be enforced in cities because that is where the highest concentrations of human-created emissions are.”

Stwertka’s research represents real progress, not only in helping to solve Utah’s inversion and pollution problems, but could even be used to better understand global climate change and pollution regulation around the world.

With climate change and global warming becoming a hot topic around the world, Stwertka’s work is extremely relevant, if unconnected to U researcher Ryan Oates’ atmospheric studies.

Ryan Oates uses global climate models to simulate massive increases of carbon dioxide in earth's atmosphere in order to make observations of its affect on the polar vortex.

Oates, whose work is also based in the Atmospheric Sciences Department at the U, is based around an established phenomenon known as a “Stratospheric Sudden Warming Event.”

These warming events take place above the North Pole in the upper part of the atmosphere, known as the troposphere. The events are basically destabilization of the polar vortex, a massive circulation of the atmosphere during the winter months above the North Pole that directly affects mid-latitude weather.

Oates said the cause of these polar vortex destabilization is simply strong weather fluctuations below the vortex.

“The troposphere affects the polar vortex but it also works the other way,” Oates said. “So when you have these sudden warming events, that then impacts storm tracks. ”

That’s where the money comes into play with Oates’ research. With energy representing a billion dollar industry that relies on weather forecasting and the understanding of storm tracks and weather patterns during the winter, adding more knowledge to that database is priceless.

“That [research] is important to investors because it increases both the opportunity and risk of their investments,” Oates said.

Oates’ work is very similar to Stwertka’s research because, much like her, he is interested in discovering the effects of carbon dioxide on the atmosphere, and more specifically, the effects of carbon dioxide increase on the polar vortex.

“I’m seeing how the vortex changes with climate change,” Oates said. “It’s really important because we’ll be able to identify the behavior and frequency of these sudden warming events, thus we’ll be able to see if there is an increase or decrease in [large-scale] tropospheric weather.”

Oates’ preliminary results seem to point to a direct correlation between carbon dioxide increase and an increase in stratospheric sudden warming events, something many weather-sensitive commodity investors will likely find interesting—and profitable.

In the end, whether they’re studying climate change and weather patterns, or mice and deadly viruses, the quiet but deliberative scientific research going on at the University of Utah is more important than most people realize.

“For me science ties into everyday things,” Oates said. “What I love about science is that you can’t isolate it to just one thing. It always has real life implications.”

A closer look at Salt Lake City’s Discovery Gateway children’s museum

Story and slideshow by BROOKE MANGUM

See the world through the eyes of a child at Discovery Gateway

Imagine a place where children’s minds can run free. Imagine a place where children can be whatever they want to be. Imagine a place where play is celebrated. What if this place encouraged and facilitated education and learning as well.

Does that sound too good to be true? This is what Discovery Gateway offers the community.

“Discovery Gateway, and organizations like it, are so important and different from other museums because they inspire children to learn via play,” said Steven Suite, chairman of Discovery Gateway board of directors.

Formally known as the Children’s Museum of Utah, the west-side nonprofit Discovery Gateway is located at 444 W. 100 South. The museum relocated to this 60,000-square-foot building in 2006 and is filled with exhibits of hands-on educational fun.

The museum was founded in 1978 by a group of parents and educators who believed children learned best by “doing.” The museum aims to be one of the most trusted and preferred family discovery centers and child educational resources in the Intermountain West.

The exhibits in Discovery Gateway are designed to address the multiple ways that children learn. All of the exhibits are interactive and inspire learning through creative play. The museum is divided into six zones, each having various hands-on learning experiences. Each section appeals to different age groups and children’s interests.

“What is so cool about our exhibits is that they not only teach children but they get them thinking about possible future fields,” said Lindsie Smith, Discovery Gateway development and marketing director in an email interview. “Each exhibit that we have focuses on a different career field. We have science exhibits, medical exhibits, activities in the theatre and arts, journalism, the possibilities are endless.”

Discovery Gateway is divided into six main zones: the Garden, Kids Eye View, Story Factory, Media Zone, the Studio and the Terrace.

The Garden is a 30-foot beehive that serves as the main entryway to the museum. This exhibit is designed to teach cause and effect. Children and adults work together to keep the hive functioning by performing various mechanical tasks. For example, one child is in charge of feeding plastic balls into a machine while another uses a hand crank to power a fan that moves the balls along the path to the next station. In another part of the hive a child uses foot pedals to activate a vacuum tube that propels the balls back to the beginning. When all the stations and children are working together and doing their job the hive comes alive.

Kids Eye View is dedicated to the museum’s youngest visitors. This zone is divided into multiple mini exhibits designed for tiny hands and budding motor skills. The exhibits within the Kids Eye View capture toddlers’ imaginations by exposing them to life on the farm, construction zones, a life-sized playhouse and every little one’s favorite, the rushing water exhibit.

The Story Factory offers visitors an opportunity to explore the many ways to tell a story. This is the journalism zone that is designed to inspire young future writers to discover the fun in writing and storytelling. The exhibit has something for all levels of writers, from those who are just beginning to craft sentences to those who are more experienced   with using words and modern multimedia.

Media Zone is sponsored in part by KSL 5 news. In this zone children are able to try out any and all media jobs and try their hands at TV and music production. Children can see what it is like to anchor the news, do a weather report and work as a camera operator. This section also has music mixing tables and recording devices where children can learn to make, record and produce their own music.

“My favorite is the news station,” said Gabriel Rosse, 10, a regular museum visitor. “It is so cool! I feel like I am doing the news for real.”

The Studio is a place for little scientists, artists and engineers to let their imaginations run wild. This is a hands-on creative space where children can learn about such things as physics, earth sciences, biology, mathematics and forms of art and architecture. The children are able to build their own mini structures and test their earthquake durability on the vibration tables. They also can conduct their own experiments with vacuum tubes.

The Terrace is home to one of the museum’s most beloved and recognizable exhibits, the Life Flight Helicopter, donated by Intermountain Healthcare. In this area children are able to learn about medical professions as well as search and rescue occupations. The once fully functional helicopter is now a kid friendly version that allows children to experience the thrill of flight using sounds and vibrations. The chopper lights up and makes all of the sounds of real flight such as the hum of the engine, the wind blowing on the tarmac and voices on the radio reciever.

“I love the helicopter,” said Max Smith, 6. Max lives in Salt Lake City and attends Reid School. “It is loud and makes me feel like I am flying fast.”

The museum also hosts traveling exhibits that are featured at Discovery Gateway for a limited time. The most recent exhibit was called PLAY. An exhibit called “Tinker Toys” is expected to début in 2012.

“The exhibits are fantastic,” said Anne Godfrey, a Salt Lake City mother who often brings her children to the museum. “I really feel good about taking my kids here. Not only do the kids love it, but I feel good knowing they are improving their education.”

The people at Discovery Gateway consider their crowning achievement to be the Junior Achievement City (JA City), located on the fourth floor. They are so excited about this exhibit because in their eyes it is the ultimate example of hands-on learning. JA City is in partnership with Junior Achievement of Utah and offers a hands-on learning environment for fifth-graders to gain “real-life” business experience. It is also a place for eighth-graders to learn how to manage their personal finances.

In JA City children run their own mock fully functional city. Using the knowledge they have acquired in the classroom they are able to bring this information to life. The children hold their own elections for mayor and hold different occupations and positions in the community.

Some youth are bankers, others grocery store workers. If it exists in real life it is highly likely that it is represented at JA City. The children involved in the program assume different positions in the mock community and learn valuable lessons about different occupations and the work that goes in to make society function.

“This exercise gives a huge opportunity for youth,” said board chairman Steve Suite. ”The kids have to work together or things don’t run smoothly. It is a lot like our Garden in the lower level but on a whole new scale where they make their own laws and essentially their utopia.”

Suite says Discovery Gateway is a magical place where kids can be kids, but they also learn and have the opportunity to think about their futures.

KUED, Sorenson Unity Center, promoting education at home

Story and slideshow by DEREK SIDDOWAY

Take a look inside the Eccles Broadcast Center and view a Ready to Learn Workshop.

According to the 2010 Census, nearly 10 percent (9.5) of Utah’s population is under 5 years old. That is the highest in the nation. Yet Utah, along with North Dakota and Montana, are the only states that do not offer free public preschool.

Jacqueline Voland, community outreach and education services manager at KUED, thought that was a problem. So in 2001, when the Department of Education reopened another grant cycle for the PBS Ready to Learn initiative, she took action.

“Our early literacy campaigns were more focused on hard content and resources,” Voland said. “It is important that we have a one-on-one relation with the community and their services. The Ready to Learn initiative supplements education services and provides tools (for parents) at home.”

At its heart, Voland described the Ready to Learn initiative as seeking to increase parental participation and involvement in school and education. All of the programs are designed around Utah’s educational core curriculum and focus on infancy through third grade. The initiative combines educational programming and a “Learning Triangle,” consisting of “read, view and do principles.” The approach is based on the concept that children learn in different ways. Everything is designed to empower parents to take a more active role in their children’s schooling.

“We are trying to be a public vehicle to support education. The Learning Triangle is the basis for what happens in Ready to Learn,” Voland said. “We are providing (parents) with tools to engage their kids at home.”

The Ready to Learn initiative reaches out through a series of workshops in a variety of locations across the state to educate parents. Beginning with media literacy, the subjects branch into child development, health, safety, nutrition, self-esteem issues and anti-bullying, to name a few. Voland said the workshop themes are based on underlying issues that need to be continually addressed.

“The media literacy workshop is the start of anything we do,” Voland said. “Part of our mission is education of appropriate media: what, why and how you should be watching with children. Not all TV is for kids. Parents need to understand that while the TV is on (children) are consuming information in lots of different ways.”

Parents are the first teacher a child ever has, Voland says. As such they play an integral part in the equation for a child’s academic success. To aid parent involvement, the Ready to Learn initiative provides tools to make parental involvement easier. For every given topic, parents are given lists of children’s books and programming for their kids to enjoy.  To address the “do” part of the triangle, parents complete an activity with their children such as paper cup phones. This exercise teaches basic sound principles.

As part of the do, read, view theme every parent is sent home from the workshop with a book to build at-home libraries. They are also encouraged to acquire library cards.

All workshops provide bilingual presenters and material in Spanish and English if needed. As an added bonus partnering sites that provide a location for the workshop are required to supply refreshments or a meal to participants.

One agency that partners with the Ready to Learn initiative is the Sorenson Unity Center. Located at 900 W. 1383 South, the center collaborates with various nonprofit groups through its Programming Partnership. Voland said KUED had partnered with the Sorenson Unity Center in the past but it wasn’t until July 2011 that KUED was approached about joining the Programming Partnership.

“The early phases with the Sorenson Center relations have been good,” Voland said. “We are a nonprofit and in turn it behooves us to reach out and serve community with programming and services.”

As the Ready to Learn Program Coordinator at KUED, Elise Peterson is all about community outreach and the importance of parental involvement in education. The 28-year-old Peterson taught elementary school for three years before receiving her master’s degree in Child Advocacy at Montclair State University in New Jersey. She describes her position at KUED as the perfect fit for her degree and mission.

“These workshops have been so rewarding for me,” Peterson said. “It’s so important to make education accessible because for certain families school can seem daunting.”

Peterson said the KUED workshops serve 15 different sites in the Salt Lake area and average 20 parents at each workshop. Currently she presents monthly at venues like the Sorenson Unity Center. In addition to scheduling and presenting workshops, Peterson helps sponsor other activities through KUED such as parent or literacy nights.

Peterson presents a different themed workshop every month at the Sorenson Unity Center. She says most requests are for science and math, areas part of the STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — program being implemented by PBS and “Sesame Street” this season.

In keeping with the STEM theme, Peterson’s workshop at the Sorenson Unity Center emphasized these focus areas. Fun with Numbers and Science Exploration taught parents how to implement mathematics and scientific exploration into everyday life. Suggestions for parents included cooking with children, separating laundry into dark and light groups and other daily chores. Every activity in the presentation included exercises that parents could do without setting aside extra time.

One example Peterson recommended was the principle of shadows. Parents were challenged to view an online video clip from KUED and then read one of the children’s books such as “Light” by Molly Bang. Next, parents were encouraged to take their children outside to explore making shadows. Puppets were included in the workshop packet for children to continue their exploration.

“Parents are coming back (to the next workshop) sharing experiences of how education is happening at home and what they are doing with the activities,” Peterson said. “It’s great to see the program working and parents being involved with the materials at home.”

Nancy Holt was a first-time participant in the Ready to Learn Workshops. As a working mother, Holt was intrigued by the concept of implement teaching activities at home and exposing her child to a well-rounded education.

“I heard about the workshop through the Community Council,” Holt said before the workshop. “The concept of a parent workshop to help teach children to learn sounded interesting.”

The turnout to the Sorenson Unity Center’s November workshop amounted to four mothers, but Peterson feels a new parent attending was nonetheless encouraging.

Jacqueline Voland, the community outreach and service manager is satisfied knowing the Ready to Learn Initiative is serving the community and empowering parents.

“Every moment is a learning moment,” she said.

Spy Hop Productions: a different kind of school


Spy Hop Productions teaches self expression through multimedia

If a school had students only do one or two projects a semester, would that school be considered an effective learning facility? If you were to ask students at Spy Hop Youth Media Arts and Entertainment Center, the answer might be a resounding “yes.”

Spy Hop is a nonprofit organization that, according to its website, is committed to helping students ages 13 -19 “express their voice and with it create a positive change in their lives.” It does this by using digital technologies as a means of artistic expression. Spy Hop has programs that teach students self-expression through film, audio, music, web design and video game design.

Rick Wray and Erik Dodd founded Spy Hop in 1999. At the time, Wray and Dodd owned Higher Ground Learning, a for-profit academic tutoring facility. Matt Mateus, programs director at Spy Hop, said in an interview that what Wray and Dodd discovered while tutoring became the basis for forming Spy Hop.

“They found that when they introduced film and video into their tutoring it was way more engaging for the student,” Mateus said.

Since Spy Hop also focuses on the development of the student, rather than simply teaching them technical skills, it uses self-expression as a means to teach students principles such as community awareness, emotional competency and high productivity.

“Our success really comes when youth leave here as engaged productive citizens, they succeed in the work force or higher education and have an opportunity to share their voice with the rest of the world,” Mateus said.

In an effort to achieve this, Mateus told of five fundamental goals that Spy Hop focuses on for all of its programs. These goals focus around: providing a safe after-school program, fostering artistic expression, developing educational and workplace readiness skills, developing emotional competencies and increasing media literacy, personal awareness and global connections.

The theater room at Spy Hop

To better reach its vision, Spy Hop has a unique way of working with the students.

“We’re allowed to be different from a public school system. We’re allowed to sit down and really take the time to see what each student really wants to learn,” Matues said. “We really dig into, ‘what are the activities they are doing and how does that relate to our mission?’ ‘How does that relate to our program goals?’”

Because of this teaching technique, teachers at Spy Hop are called mentors. They spend one-on-one time with each of their students to establish a trusting and respectful relationship, along with helping with their projects.

This became apparent when Mateus, who’s a mentor in the music program, was giving a tour of the studio. He noticed a game-design student eating popcorn near the computers.

“Be careful with that popcorn. I don’t want butter all over the keyboard,” Mateus said while walking by. The student responded with a respectful, “Sure thing. Sorry Matt.”

“I still keep in contact with a dozen of my old students that I go to lunch with,” Mateus said. “The feedback I get is really positive.”

Shannalee Otanez, 24, an instructor for Loud & Clear said, “I love it all. I love seeing young people feel empowered to believe in themselves, and to feel like they have something important to share.” She feels she’s in a great position as a mentor at Spy Hop since she’s a former student. “I benefited from it myself, so I get what kind of impact it can have,” she said in a phone interview.

Shalom Khokhar, right, works on his audio project.

Shalom Khokhar, 19, from South Salt Lake, has come to understand that impact as well. Khokhar is a student in the audio apprenticeship class. He said the two main things that Spy Hop has taught him are priorities and responsibility.

“Once you come in, you sit down and it’s all about your work ethic, which you can apply in your other life too, in social settings, school, education, whatever,” Khokhar said.

When asked what his favorite part of Spy Hop was, Khokhar said, “I’d say the respect that Spy Hop has toward its students. They have a certain trust that they give to students to say, ‘OK come in here, use our equipment and stay in here as long as you want.’”

Spy Hop isn’t just helping students to become better people; it also helps to prepare them for the work force. The students work on projects during after-school hours using modern digital equipment. Khokhar and his apprenticeship class, for example, are currently working on the sound for a film produced by Spy Hop called “River’s End,” which is a story about a boy who, after his dad leaves his mom, goes and plays by a river and meets an imaginary friend. Him and his friend then run away and have some adventures. Khokhar says that a project like this takes skill in sound editing which he is happy to be developing.

Mateus is proud that Spy Hop is helping to create the next work force in the industry. Along with personal and life skills, Spy Hop is providing its students with a leg up by giving them hands-on training.

“To be able to walk into a studio and say, ‘I can work for you guys. I know Pro Tools. I know where to set these microphones up,’ at 17 years old. That’s crazy,” Mateus said. “Because what are they going to be doing when they’re 25?”

U’s Sill Center pushes sustainable building efforts

Watch a multimedia video about the University of Utah’s Sill Center and their sustainability efforts.

Story and multimedia by JENNA LEVETAN

Construction all over campus causes students to pay a $17 fee in their tuition every semester. But one older building is adding new and innovative methods to save money and also energy.

The Sterling Sill Center is where the office of undergraduate studies is located and is a leader in housing sustainable projects on campus. It has solar panels on top of the building, organic gardens in front and the most recent project is in their backyard and is called an ice ball.

The ice ball is an experiment that could be a breakthrough in air conditioning.  The experiment is happening 40 feet underground behind the building. Professor Kent Udell spearheaded the idea of the ice ball with students from the department of mechanical engineering. An ice ball is a method of taking the cold winter air and saving it underground.

There are 19 pipes sticking out of the ground behind the building called thermosyphines. The pipes are what bring the cold air down underground.

“The basic concept is that we are trying to TIVO the seasons.  We are trying to store the winter cold that we are experiencing right now, take advantage of it in summer and get free air conditioning,” Udell said.

A special coolant fluid similar to Freon is put into the pipes that have both the liquid and vapor phase. The liquid is in the bottom of the pipes and the vapor is on top.

“What happens in the winter is that when the temperature outside drops below the temperature underground, that liquid in the bottom starts to boil.  As it boils the vapors come up, go to the condenser, condense, and the liquid runs back down. Then comes summer and we reverse it,” Udell said.

When the cold liquid comes back into the ground, it freezes the soil around the pipes, forming what people are calling an ice ball. The cold liquid will be pumped into the air conditioner and will be used to cool the building as the ice ball melts. The ice ball will grow to be about 35 feet in diameter.

Sill Center employees are hoping to use the energy gained by their solar panels to pump the liquid into the air conditioner making the ice ball truly environmentally friendly by using no electricity at all. St. Andrew personally asked Udell to use the backyard of the Sill Center for the ice ball.

“If this works it has immense potential for saving lots and lots of money and preventing a lot of pollution. And if it works hopefully we can expand the idea and not only change the way this building gets its air conditioning, but the world,” said St. Andrew.

Building the ice ball has cost just over $20,000, but Udell believes that the cost of installing the ice ball will be paid back in three years with all the money the school will save in air conditioning bills and it should last for decades.

The installation is now complete and Udell hopes it to be operational by summer 2011. If the ice ball turns out to be successful, Udell will work on a similar but separate project to keep the warm summer air stored to help them heat the building during the winter.

Another green project the Sill Center houses are the solar panels that were installed in December 2009. There are 30 plates of solar panels on the roof with three rows of 10. It only cost the university about $17,000 out of pocket to buy and install them after they got a grant from Rocky Mountain Power.

“We got a grant through Rocky Mountain Power for $30,000,” said Mark St. Andrew, assistant dean of undergraduate studies. “It is going to take us nearly 50 years to pay off these panels in the amount of energy that they are going to produce.”

Though the goal of solar panels are to save energy, the ones at the Sill Center produce much less then some may think.

According to the data from the Rocky Mountain energy manager, last year the panels only produced three percent of what the building uses in a year. The university will be in debt to the panels for so long because of the large out of pocket expense for the panels and the small dent of energy they actually produce.

The panels are only guaranteed to last for 30 years, meaning the university may be paying for them for nearly 20 years after they are gone. The employees at the Sill Center are aware that there are some conservative fiscal people who think they were a waste of money, but they stand by their decision of getting them because even without a return on investment the panels get people talking about alternative sources of energy.

The organic garden is a project funded by the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund. When Alex Parvas, founder of gardens, asked the Sill Center if she could grow the gardens in front of the building there they were more then pleased to say yes.

“The gardens are perfect at the Sill Center,” said Parvas. “Once they get fully in bloom it is going to be really pretty and hopefully a conversation starter since the building is so central on campus.”

The Sill Center and garden coordinators have also set up a patio area along side the building so students and faculty can have a spot on campus to picnic around the gardens.

The Sill Center will continue to look for innovative ways to improve sustainability on campus and remains optimistic about the future.

“There is no overall plan or master plan that we have hatched,” St. Andrew said. “It is just stuff that makes sense to do.”

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