Posted by: COSI | April 20, 2009

One Idea, One Million Campers

2009campin-million-patch1It’s cool to be a witness to history. But how much cooler to be the people whose creativity and willingness to try the unknown created history in what has become a worldwide phenomena serving millions of youth. That’s what we celebrated Saturday night, recognizing the founding “father” Bill Schmitt and founding “mother” Sue Shilling of the Camp-In concept.

After a private celebration with family and past camp-in associates, we celebrated with the night’s campers the sleeping of the one millionth young person at a COSI camp-in! (I can’t imagine one million participants of any specific program—particularly going at it 300-2000 at a time.) Tammy Wharton, the CEO of the  Girl Scouts of Ohio’s Heartland council kept using the term “amazing” when looking at what has been accomplished—and not only the one million campers here (COSI is the ONLY institution to reach that number) but the many millons of young people around the world who’ve experienced the memory making power of a science museum camp-in.

But to me, the highlight was really celebrating the founders of the Camp-In concept, Bill Schmitt who worked at COSI at the time and Sue Shilling who worked at the local Girl Scouts.  Bill, who I met in my earliest days in the science center field, still has an incredible amount of energy and enthusiasm around engaging kids with hands-on science. He and Sue clearly have a pride in the “what about?” way in which the Camp-In concept was started by the two of them. The video clip gives a little highlight of the event. There was great sharing of stories and memories from the assembled group of individuals who have had a role to play over the last 37 years of COSI camp-ins, partnering for many of them with the Girls Scouts

The Columbus Dispatch captured some of them in a nice article in the Saturday paper which gives more of the history of COSI’s Camp-In.
Visitors at COSI can learn more about this unique story through a great display in the first floor main hallway that tells and celebrates the story. I hope that Saturday’s millionth camper event and celebration encourages more people to share their personal stories using our online Camp-In Memory Station.

I’d love to learn more of them to help guide us going forward—so join the Ning site and post your memories and what the experience has meant to you. But clearly, in my memory of the evening was the pleasure in seeing Bill Schmitt and Sue Shilling being recognized for the creation of this novel, cheered by the most recent group of excited, bright eyed campers that evening, and basking in the knowledge that their idea and partnership has created a powerful way in which science museums can engage the imagination and the memory making of so many young people.  How cool is that!?

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