“Community” by Sara Feilzer, MTCC AmeriCorps and VISTA Alum

April 6, 2020
Playing with Dry Ice in Potions class!

Thinking back on my year of service with spectrUM Discovery Area in Missoula, one theme really stands out to me, community. The community of support from my AmeriCorps family, the community of scientists and coworkers and the community of Missoula, which is truly like no other.

I grew up in Missoula and when I graduated from Big Sky High School it only made sense to continue my education at the University of Montana. Right away (actually, while I was still in high school!) I started volunteering at spectrUM, UM’s hands-on science center, and as a freshman in college, I served a 300 hour term as a Campus Corps member through MTCC at spectrUM. Through my experiences volunteering and working in the informal science education world, I realized that after graduation, that’s where I wanted to be. Naturally, I looked for positions all over the northwest at various science centers and museums, but something called me to stay in Missoula and when I was offered the full-time, year-long VISTA position with spectrUM, I jumped at the chance to stay in my community and hopefully make a difference.

Sara with her homemade Calcium Carbide Cannon for New Years Eve festivities

My term of service was difficult and transformative for me on a personal and professional level as those years just out of college generally are. I was in a terrible car accident in the middle of my term, and I was really struggling with my service and how I fit in to the organization. It felt as if I was drowning and I didn’t know how to stand up, but through my AmeriCorps family, my spectrUM family, my biological family and the community that I built with all of those pillars of support, I came to realize my true passion for teaching science and how I personally can best serve those around me through that passion.

Playing Hogwarts Potions Master for the day with winter break campers

Fast forward a few years and I am still working in informal science education, this time as the Education Director for ExplorationWorks in Helena, Montana. Every day I get to go to work and find the new best way to teach a scientific concept to a third grader or I get to build a robot with a group of middle schoolers, or I get to explode a watermelon with calcium carbide, a little water and a lighter (Yes, it is as awesome as it sounds!). I love that I can serve my (new) community through many opportunities to share my passion for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) with the children and families of Helena. Looking forward, who knows where I’ll be, but I do know, thanks to my VISTA term, that I’ll be teaching and exploring science with kids (and adults!) of all ages.

Sara Feilzer is the Director of Education at Exploration Works. She served as an AmeriCorps member as a student, and VISTA following graduation.