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Enjoy Magazine

CH2M Hill's Rising Stars Gala

10/01/2013 01:53PM ● By Kerri Regan
Story by Kerri Regan
Photo: Betsy Erickson

If the next Neil Armstrong or John Muir were sitting in a North State classroom right now, would you embrace the chance to help nudge him or her toward a world-changing career?

CH2M Hill will host the 5th Annual Rising Stars Gala on Oct. 26 at Turtle Bay Museum to benefit the Clair Hill Scholarship Fund, Schreder Planetarium and Whiskeytown Environmental School (WES). In the past four years, the event has raised nearly $100,000 to help more than 2,200 children participate in these programs.

“We really want to make a difference in this community, and it’s important to have kids in the pipeline for these careers,” says CH2M Hill Manager Tony Jaegel, who visited the planetarium as a child growing up in Hayfork. “Everybody has a good time at the gala, but we’ve also really made a huge difference in the viability and success of Schreder Planetarium and Whiskeytown Environmental School.”

WES Camp began in 1971 at Whiskeytown National Recreation Area and is one of just two National Environmental Education Development camps left in the country (25 were originally developed by the National Park Service). The Schreder Planetarium has provided engaging science education since 1979. Both facilities are community jewels that have even inspired some people’s career choices.

Local schoolteacher Kerry Packham has seen WES Camp from just about every conceivable vantage point—as a camper, a counselor, a camper’s mom, and a fifth-grade teacher who has taken students there. “As a kid, did you ever have one of those beyond incredible experiences that you wished would never have to end?” Packham asks. “As you grew up, did you look back fondly and dream of that adventure that was independent of parents, a challenge, and a real life-changer? If you were fortunate enough to grow up in and around Redding, that unforgettable experience was probably when you attended Whiskeytown Environment School. It’s a rite of passage for so many in our community.”

Campers study environmental science through hands-on experiences, but also learn self-reliance and interdependence, Packham says. “As a teacher, it is a glimpse into the other side of the brain and its capacity to absorb complex subjects through hands-on, interactive exploration. I also love the fact that we can go and have fun with students. It has been an extraordinary blessing to be part of this program and to see from generation to generation the ties that connect kids, schools, families and the community together.”

WES campers have the chance to peer up at the stars each night, but students get an even closer look at astral anomalies when they visit Schreder Planetarium. “We will never know the full impact of this amazing gem of Shasta County,” says David Ewart, planetarium director from 2005 to 2012. “It has touched thousands of people in its 34 trips around the sun.”

California Institute of Technology junior Ronnel Boettcher volunteered at the planetarium as an Enterprise High School student. “It is a place of inspiration and excitement where people of any age are invited to learn how the world works,” Boettcher says. “I can say confidently that the degree to which my volunteering experience benefited me toward achieving my goals was tremendous. In the past, I have interned with NASA Ames working on their airborne infrared telescope SOFIA, attended a NASA-funded science camp and participated in the National Science Bowl competition in our nation’s capital.”

Ewart loves hearing stories like that, as he too was awestruck by visits to observatories and science centers as a child. He witnessed the successful launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1981, his high school was across the street from NASA Ames, and “these institutions that exalt human ingenuity were all part of my childhood adventures that opened my mind to the wonders of science,” Ewart says. “Schreder Planetarium was the launch platform to share my love of science with kids.”

Shasta High School science teacher Brian Grigsby, who directed the planetarium from 2000 to 2005, still works with NASA, and his students are doing photoanalysis for the Mercury mission. Many local students’ love of science begins at the planetarium, he says. “When I started, I thought, how can we use this resource to take people somewhere they haven’t been before? The novelty of a place like that is that it lends itself to learning and is fertile ground for them to learn. My mom would take me there and I would be in awe—how they got the stars up on that dome, and I loved being able to move the universe to show kids something. I feel like the planetarium itself is a key factor in why I went into science and why I love astronomy.”

Assistance from CH2M Hill—largely, the Rising Stars Gala—puts experiences like science summer camps and a Community Science Intern (CSI) program into reach for low-income students, he says. One 12-year-old girl who participated in some summer camps now wants to pursue a career in astrobiology.

The gala was launched when CH2M Hill decided to forgo their annual Christmas dinner and party five years ago, instead choosing to use those funds as a seed to launch the fundraiser. Rather than sponsoring a couple of students, they wanted to develop a more meaningful partnership through this fundraiser, Jaegel says. The event includes raffles, gambling, live and silent auctions, a band, a bar and food.

“Employees still get together and have a good time, but they’re contributing $25,000 to a community cause,” he says. •

5th Annual Rising Stars Gala • Oct. 26, 7-11 pm, Turtle Bay Museum Tickets: $30; go to or 2525 Airpark Drive, Redding, or call (530) 229-3340