You’ve heard of Bill Nye, the Science Guy. How about Loraine Brown, the Science Gal?
She may not be a TV personality, but the O’Fallon teacher has helped thousands of metro-east children learn to love science.
Loraine, 72, did it by leading summer sessions at Odyssey Science Camp at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville for 31 years, in addition to her teaching career.
“There are no tests (at camp),” she said. “There is no book. There is no homework. It’s just hands-on activities in science, which kids love, and I enjoy it, too.”
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I’ve had a ball working with her and learning from her. She’s really innovative. She was hands on before it was in vogue.
Vicki Eschman on Loraine Brown
One activity is building solar ovens. The kids cut gallon milk jugs in half, cover them with aluminum foil and cook hot dogs in the sun.
On Wednesday, Loraine was helping them build miniature rockets. She showed plenty of enthusiasm, despite having done it dozens of times.
“These go up about 1,200 feet,” she said, holding a diagram of an assembled rocket with fluorescent-orange parts and a checkered parachute.
“They’re awesome. We use an A engine, and this is the igniting material. You put two little wires in it — that’s called an igniter — and then you connect the igniter to the battery and flip a switch and it goes.”
Loraine’s “real” job was teaching 29 years at Whiteside Elementary School in Belleville, mostly fourth grade and science. She retired in 2007.
Loraine continued to lead sessions of the SIUE camp for 10 more years, but Friday was her last day.
The job is being filled by Vicki Eschman, 56, of Swansea, who Loraine recruited six years ago to be her assistant.
“I’ve had a ball working with her and learning from her,” Vicki said. “She’s really innovative. She was hands on before it was in vogue.”
Vicki also teaches second grade at Whiteside. That’s how she met Loraine, who became something of a mentor.
At the SIUE camp, the two always have led sessions for younger children (first or second grade up to fourth grade).
This year’s group included Emmie Robberson, 6, of Edwardsville. She was following in the footsteps of her brother, William, 9, and mother, Katie, 37.
Katie went to camp in the 1980s. She remembers Loraine as “very warm and calm.”
“I was one of those kids who had trouble leaving their mothers,” Katie said. “But I didn’t have any trouble leaving to be with her. She’s just once of those people you feel comfortable around.”
Emmie developed a love of science not only because of her mother’s encouragement. Father Aaron is an electrical engineer.
One day, Emmie showed up at camp wearing a T-shirt that read, “Forget princess. I want to be a scientist.” She has another one that reads, “Forget princess. I want to be an engineer.”
“I like science, and I want to get better at it,” Emmie said last week. “I like the chemistry part. I want to be a scientist when I grow up.”
Loraine moved to Illinois from South Carolina in the 1970s, when her first husband was transferred to Scott Air Force Base. She started teaching and earned a master’s at SIUE.
Loraine agreed to help create Odyssey Science Camp at SIUE in 1986.
The camp later became part of the university’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Center, which Loraine considered a huge plus.
“We have access to wonderful materials that regular classrooms don’t have,” she said. “And we have the expertise of the professors who work here.”
Another change is that primarily boys signed up for camp in the early days. Now it’s almost 50/50 boys and girls in sessions for younger children.
Rocket-building is an annual activity, although it didn’t always go smoothly in the early days. The kits have changed.
“We used to connect the rockets to (professor David Winnett’s) car battery, and one of them went crazy,” Loraine recalls. “... I remember him yelling ‘Fore,’ and everyone hit the ground.”
Loraine has two grown sons and five grandchildren. She’s a YMCA regular, a book-club member and a “sister” in the Philanthropic Educational Organization’s metro-east chapter.
Loraine and her husband, Mack Brown, commute between their home in O’Fallon and farm in Thompsonville.
“I cut the grass,” she said. “I’ve learned to drive a tractor.”