Visualizing outer space: Two Lawrence students travel to space camp for the visually impaired


By Sadie Hunter


In September, two MSD of Lawrence Township students got the experience of a lifetime at the United States Space Camp.

For one week, the space camp tailored the experience for 213 visually impaired students from 25 U.S. states and nine countries, including Australia, Ireland, Israel, Greece, South Africa, Belgium, India and Canada.

Alexis Hapley, 13, an eighth grader at Belzer Middle School, has nystagmus and optic nerve hypoplasia. She said nystagmus causes her eyes to shake, making her vision unfocused, and optic nerve hypoplasia makes her nearsighted so it’s more difficult to process things in front of her.

Kierstin Hall, 12, a sixth grader at Harrison Hill Elementary, has cone rod dystrophy, a condition she said causes her to have nearly no central vision and weak peripheral vision.

Hapley and Hall went to space camp in Huntsville, Ala., during the week of Sept. 26. They trained in groups in flight simulators, on engineering projects and experienced a multi-axis trainer, walking on the moon, and even sleeping in dorms inside of a real rocket decoupler.

“They have to have an interest in STEM areas. Both of these girls are straight-A students, and they both have a real interest in math and science,” said Cynthia Corbett, visual impairment specialist for the district and one of 86 chaperones during the trip. “These two were great to take and represent Indiana, because we were the only ones from Indiana.”

Both girls were chosen because of their interests in science, technology engineering and mathematics.

“It was definitely more hands-on than a classroom,” Hapley said. “Personally, I don’t like math. I actually mostly like social studies, but I mean, history of the universe itself is kind of social studies.”

“My mom loves forensics and science, so I kind of got this science interest because she loves space,” Hall said. “I’ve always been better at math and science than any other thing.”

Hapley, Hall and Corbett worked throughout the school year to raise $1,250 per student to attend the camp. Part of the trip was funded by the Lawrence Township Foundation’s Bridge Fund.

Corbett has worked in her role as a visual impairment specialist for MSD of Lawrence Township for 20 years.

“It’s an awesome job because I’m the only person in the district who does this, so I have (students) from preschool to high school,” she said. “I taught elementary school general education in IPS for 10 years, and I had a friend who worked at the (Indiana) School for the Blind. So, I got interested that way and went back to college at Butler to get my graduate work on it.”

Corbett said she sees between 25 and 35 students each year, two of which are Hapley and Hall, who she said are both very focused on their futures.

“I’ve already planned my entire life up until I’m 28,” said Hapley, who plans to become an English second language teacher through the Japan Exchange and Teaching program in Sendai, Japan. She is teaching herself Japanese. Next year, when she attends Lawrence Central High School, she said she plans to take the school’s Japanese language elective course.

Hall said her mind isn’t made up yet but could see herself in a performing arts career  because of her love of and involvement with drama and music programs. She said a STEM career is also possible because of her love of math and science.

“If I do STEM, I want to be one of the scientists in space working with cancer cells, seeing how they grow (in an alternative environment),” Hall said.


SCIVIS, or Space Camp for Interested Visually Impaired Students, is a week-long camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.

The camp is tailored specifically for visually impaired students in late elementary school through high school. Computers are adapted for speech and large-print output, and materials and equipment used during “missions” are available in braille and large print.

SCIVIS is split into four programs where students learn about living in space, water and land survival, fighter pilot training, robotics and more. The four programs include space camp, space academy, advances academy focused on space travel and the aviation challenge.