“Monster Storms” engulf Lamar University Jan. 22

With Hurricane Rita in 2005 and Hurricane Humberto in 2007, Southeast Texas is all too familiar with the wrath of a hurricane. Lamar University students and faculty have created some good from the bad, however, and will share it with local elementary and middle school students at the JASON Monster Storms event.

The two-week-long program offers information to fourth- through eighth-grade students about tornadoes, hurricanes and general applied sciences

 “We’re expecting a huge turnout this year.  More than 8,200 students are registered and we’re trying to fit in 700 more students.  A few schools have had scheduling conflicts so it looks like we might have to take JASON Monster Storms on the road as well.  It’s all very exciting,” said Jim Westgate, professor of earth and space sciences.

The Monster Storms event is sponsored by the JASON Alliance of Southeast Texas (JASET) and members are confident students will be motivated by connecting with leading researchers and by participating in hands-on experiments to study applied sciences.

            The program will begin with a viewing of the Monster Storms video, which was produced by Lamar’s communication and earth and space sciences departments.  The film documents 28 middle and high school students from Southeast Texas as they visit Little Florida Beach and Holly Beach, two areas directly impacted by Hurricane Rita’s landfall.

            “The movie shows how weather information is obtained and relayed in a fun and interesting way.  We spoke with local meteorologists and had the help of a producer from National Geographic, so the movie offers top-notch information.  As the title implies, the film is about natural events that are, what we call, ‘monster storms,’” said Daniel McLemore, junior communication major from Nederland and editor/producer of Monster Storms.

            Other Lamar students who worked on the film as writers, editors and photographers include: Connie Carter, Beaumont; Brittnay Champine and Kate Robards, Orange; and Jondaniel Cornett, Vidor. LU television studio supervisor Gordon Williams, Cleveland helped direct the project. Communication professors Larry Elliott and O’Brien Stanley are the film’s executive producers.

            Meteorologists Andrew Chung and Rocio Garza, from KBTV-TV Channel 4; Greg Bostwick, from KFDM-TV Channel 6; and Mike Nichols from KBMT-TV, Channel 12; graciously opened their doors and contributed valuable information to the filmmakers, McLemore said.

            “We learned how information is shared among different agencies and where the information that is ultimately communicated to the general public comes from,” said McLemore.

During the first week of the event, seventh- and eighth-grade students will view Monster Storms and then spend time with area professionals. Engineers, medical professionals and scientists will host small discussion groups about their respective professions.

Fourth- through sixth-grade students will participate in scientific interactive sections during the second week.  After viewing the same Monster Storms video as the seventh- and eighth-graders, the younger students will spend time doing hands-on experiments and talking with representatives from several local and government agencies.  These agencies include the Texas General Land Office, Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, the National Parks Service, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Sea Grant Advisory Service of Texas A&M University, the Texas A&M University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, the National Weather Service, joined by two retirees of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

There are 17 participating school districts or private schools: All Saints Episcopal and St. Mary’s Catholic School (Orange), joined by school districts in Beaumont, Bridge City, Jasper, Kountze, Little Cypress-Mauriceville, Lumberton, Nederland, Newton, Port Arthur, Port Neches-Groves, Silsbee, Vidor, West Hardin, West-Orange Cove, and Woodville.

The JASON Alliance of Southeast Texas was established in 2001 by Lamar University and the Beaumont Chamber of Commerce to further the mission of the JASON Project in Southeast Texas.  Through grants from local industries and other benefactors, JASET provides curricula and training to southeast Texas school districts free of charge.

Robert Ballard founded the JASON Project in 1989 after he received thousands of letters from young students who were inspired by his discovery of the RMS Titanic.  The nonprofit subsidiary of the National Geographic Society aims to inspire students to get involved in science through hands on training and real-world discovery.  The project is headquartered at George Washington University’s Ashburn, Va. campus, where researcher and students are continually evaluating the program’s effectiveness and developing new materials.

Visit www.jason.org to learn more about the JASON Project and the Operation: Monster Storms curriculum.  For more information about Lamar’s JASON Monster Storms event, contact Jim Westgate at (409) 880-7970.