As part of Space Camp Turkey's 20th Anniversary Celebrations, we have conducted several exclusive interviews with the chaperones that have started their Space Camp Turkey journey several years ago. We wanted to ask and see what they had to say about their first time at Space Camp Turkey and their overall experience. We begin with our dear friend and Country Coordinator of Greece, Ms. Elizabeth Wahlert – Athanassiadis.

When did you first attend a program at Space Camp Turkey? Do you remember your feelings at that time? Do you remember the other teachers and students who came with you?

In January of 2003,   I accepted an invitation from ESBAS and Space Camp Turkey to come to Izmir, visit the premises and meet the organizers of the programme.  It was on this occasion that I met R. Tolga Yildirim for the first time.  My enthusiastic interest in SCT and the scholarship programme resulted in the opportunity to award scholarships to ten deserving teenagers from       Athens, Greece and my responsibility for them when we came to SCT in July of 2003. My close professional and personal affiliation with SCT has spanned seventeen years. Indeed, I remember all of the students who were members of that original team from Athens.  They are now 28 years old and are leaders in their chosen professions.  Some live and work in Greece, but the vast majority of these young adults have chosen to live and work abroad. Another teacher, who was also the mother of one of the members of the original SCT team, provided assistance.

What were the reactions / impressions of the first group of students you brought? Are you still in touch with some of them?

Our first SCT MISSION in July of 2003 was unforgettable and truly unique.  Student participants and their educator coordinators had come from the four corners of the globe; New York, California, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Israel among others. To this day, those who were members of the Greek delegation talk about that experience.  Extensive and meticulous arrangements had been made to make it possible for the students to ask questions of the astronauts who were on a space mission orbiting over Turkey.  The excitement was electric among everyone at SCT as the connection was made and the students asked their carefully written questions and received answers from the astronauts in space.  Filming of the activities of that week resulted in a DVD that we were given and which I still treasure as a visual reminder of that truly amazing world class experience.

That same summer, in July of 2003, Bill Stavroulakis, who was a member of that first SCT MISSION from Greece,   was chosen as Camper of the Week.  This was a tremendous honour both for Bill and his mother who was pleased that she could be at the graduation ceremony when he was awarded the medal by Kaya Tuncer.    Bill Stavroulakis holds a degree from the National Technical University of Athens and currently lives in San Francisco, California.  He is the Senior Software Engineer at CRUISE Automation designing self-driving automobiles that will be the wave of the future in the automotive industry.  Another young woman who was a member of our first SCT team found the experience to be life changing and went on to pursue her interest in Physics at an outstanding university in Scotland.  She received a PhD in Robotics with an affiliation with the needs of the international space exploration programmes.

How many times and in which programs have you participated over the years? What were your impressions as an educator?

In conversing with other SCT chaperones from around the world , I have detected a certain amount of surprise and disbelief when I tell them that I have organized Greek SCT teams and personally  brought them to SCT on at least  fourteen different occasions.  As an international educator, it is important to learn from young people by communicating with them, observing them in real life learning experiences, and watching them interact  with other teenagers from around the world while  assuming  leadership roles in team based activities.  It is through the SCT experience that we as educators envision the futures of our students who have been chosen to receive SCT scholarships.  Most have gone on to realize my dreams for their futures.  Several have received PhDs from reputable universities in Europe and the United States in the fields of Astrophysics and Robotics with a focus on space technology and exploration. Others have won international grants for projects relating to Physics and high power telescopes.  I am proud to say that all have gone on to be leaders in their chosen professions and careers. 

Can you share a memory you have from your days at Space Camp Turkey?

The numerous memories of my SCT experiences have given me considerable pride and joy as an international educator.  Most significantly, I am proud of all   the  Greek scholarship recipients, but in particular those  who on six different occasions   have been awarded either the Camper of the Week medal or the Right Stuff medal at graduation ceremonies at the end of their Space Camp Turkey experiences.   

One summer, one of the counselors who worked with the campers and was on the staff for several years told me, “It is always great when we see that a team of scholarship students from Athens, Greece will be with us for the week.  They always have an excellent level of English, are leaders in their groups, and help the other students who do not have the same level of English.”

Do you have a message for families and children who want to participate in the programs?

Over the course of the past seventeen years, hundreds of deserving Greek teenagers from the Athens metropolitan area  have had the opportunity  to participate in the 6 ½ day international Space Camp Turkey programme.  Each one of these students has acknowledged that this was a world class learning experience.   Some of the teenagers decided to return and participate in the programme more than once.  In fact, one young man took part in four SCT summer experiences and served as a student leader for four consecutive years.  He had his own mission . . . he wanted to be selected as the Camper of the Week.  On his fourth and final mission he realized his personal goal and SCT mission!

Anything else you would like to add?

Space Camp Turkey missions could not have been realized without the dedication of the international educators who assisted me, but to a larger extent the educational institutions in the Athens metropolitan vicinity who believed in the ethos and mission of the programme.

I would like to personally commend Gina Kontaratos who served as a chaperone and my personal assistant on four occasions.  Her professionalism, unlimited support and belief in the ethos and mission of SCT and its significance to young people from around the world, and her total involvement with all activities were invaluable.  On one occasion, a medical emergency in my family made it impossible for me to take the student delegation to SCT.  Only a few hours before the team’s departure to Turkey, Gina Kontaratos rose to the challenge and assumed the responsibility so that the teenagers could fully experience and appreciate the opportunity that had been made available to them.  Both of her sons have been members of SCT missions on two occasions each.  When information sessions for parents and students are organized, she and one of her sons are always the first ones to speak first hand of the multiplicity of benefits of the SCT experience!

Elizabeth Wahlert- Athanassiadis

Country Coordinator for Space Camp Turkey


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