Chris Luong – Mary Poppins with a Degree in Science
December 2018 Edition
Preparing for the December expedition, Chris Luong, Educator at Victorian Space Science Education Centre and Expedition Group Manager at CASE Space School, takes a journey through STEAM education from Melbourne, Victoria, to Houston, Texas.
Chris loves everything about his job, especially the dress code – an astronaut flight suit that he occasionally dons while guiding students in scenario-based STEM education at Victorian Space Science Education Centre. The passion and skills for teaching shows. He has recently been complimented by HRH Prince Andrew, Duke of York during his visit to the Centre on what a great teacher he is.
I wonder if he always wanted to be a scientist working with kids. “I always wanted to be around aeroplanes, was fascinated by everything, take-off, landing, airports … so I wanted to be a flight attendant. It would be perfect because they fly all the time.” That changed a little over the years and he wanted to become a pilot. But he realised that this is perhaps too much responsibility. Still, he was always good at Maths and Science and went to study Aerospace Engineering at Monash University.
He is till fascinated by airports; so much so that he openly admits: “My hobby is visiting airports. I’m fascinated by how efficiently they run, how they are designed, the architecture, the way everything functions, how people go about their days following rules and procedure …”
Might that be the reason he enjoys his twice-yearly gig as an expedition group manager at CASE space school – following procedure and making sure everything runs? “Yes,” he agrees without hesitation. And, because he loves space school and is passionate about STEAM education. “I want to inspire people, awaken their curiosity,” he says. “Lots of people are afraid of the concept of STEAM. It is a part of my job to understand that fear and make it interesting in the context of space; basically, using space as a hook.”
“And what a hook that is!” he continues. “That is why I came on board as an expedition group manager in the first place. Other expedition managers from the Space Centre talked about it and I wanted in – because CASE space school meant I got to do everything I love brought into one.”
He had a group of boys at CASE Junior Space School from Trinity Grammar School in July 2018. This December he will lead a co-ed group of seniors. “Junior Space School is mostly about exposure to STEAM whereas Senior Space School focuses more on what students want to do in life and how to achieve that. These are hard decisions to make … although it wasn’t difficult for me. I always knew what I wanted.”
His greatest worry in July was he would lose a student. “And I did,” he laughs. “One of the students went through different security gates at the airport. Luckily his colleagues saw that, and they met the student on the other side.” As scary as this is and as much as all of us worry about these things, Chris’s attitude is realistic: “These things can happen, but it was comforting to know that I had a great support network of other GMs and Actura staff. Not just at that moment at the airport but throughout the expedition.”
“It is a fact that this is a learning experience – not just learning about STEAM but also the seven survival skills and additional CASE components – that’s where I saw the students grow as a group and a team. I could see amazing change in students albeit it was only two weeks. There was a student, for example, who didn’t want to participate in the Energy Zone in the morning because he felt dancing was for losers. And to be honest, there were a few who were reluctant to do it. And yet in week 2 they were all doing it and wanted to do it more often. It was amazing how the experience affected and influenced every single one of my students. They were more aware of themselves, they understood how the team works.
Even though students were far away from home and probably pushed to the edge of their comfort zone and had to work through lots of everyday issues without their usual support network, they flourished. “I always say that CASE Space School is a camp in America where groups live and experience things together. Group manager is like an educated babysitter – Mary Poppins with a knack for science,” he says cracking another smile.
He believes that the ‘recipe’ for success as a group manager is to “stick to the plan but immerse yourself in the program. In Houston I was like a kid in a candy store. Trying to build up that rapport with the students and spark their curiosity is an opportunity you might never have again.”
Chris hopes that students learnt a few things from him too. Perhaps his most valuable contribution to his group of students was that “Sometimes things happen. Life can be hard. Move on though, there are things you can’t control in life.” And after a pause he adds: That’s probably what I’ve been trying to work on myself as well. In December I will make sure I share the workload with other group managers and Actura staff more. I need to be in control all the time. And that is good as well as bad, so this December I expect I will have to loosen the reins a little bit.”
Chris believes the value of STEAM is much broader than traditionally described: “I firmly believe that STEAM is not just a fad, I believe that the goal and purpose of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics is to make the world better. Contributing to the society will keep STEAM going because people will see it helps improve society, it’s useful, it makes the world a better place.”
The kid who always knew what he wanted is ready for another step in his career. He’s getting ready for take-off to Houston in a few weeks and then returning to a new challenge: In the end of this year he is finishing his role at the Science Centre. He has landed a graduate role at Virgin Australia, so he will be working for an airline, which is his childhood dream.
Best of luck, I say and hope to catch up again for another conversation.