Stars Shine Down on Georgia

Story by Jeannie Stone

Among the mortals who inhabit the Arkansas River Valley is an 18-year-old-girl who dreams of stars and nebulae and becomes giddy at the chance to study black holes.

Fortunately for her, a three-week summer astronomy camp exists in Germany. Fortunately for us, Georgia Beavers, the only American student chosen to participate, decided to come back to earth, er, Russellville.

Georgia is the daughter of Dr. Kevin and Debbie Beavers and sister to Caroline, a student at Tech; Jena Mae, who is entering the second grade, and Parker, who is entering kindergarten.

Georgia, a rising senior at Russellville High School, displayed a talent for science from an early age. In 2003, she was awarded the bronze medal in the school Science Fair for her report on buoyancy.

In 2005, when she was in eighth grade, Georgia submitted a presentation on sunspots using NASA SOHO (solar and hemispheric observatory) data. She won the River Valley Middle School Science Fair’s earth and space science category, and was surprised to learn she also won the Daisy Bates award.

Before the evening was over, Georgia was also awarded the Naval Science Award.

“I’d wanted to go to space camp for some time,” Georgia said. “Mama told me she found this interesting Web site, but I had to write an essay. I was very sincere in my essay and explained my love for astronomy and that I wanted to meet like-minded students.”

The response time was painfully drawn out as Georgia recalled. “I heard I was accepted the last week of school. I had a month to get ready.”

The International Astronomical Youth Camp solicits participants from around the globe who are interested in expanding their horizons. Eligible candidates must know English, and fall between 16 and 24 years of age. The camp aims to groom the future researchers of the world.

“Astronomy was the common thread that connected us,” Beavers said. “I mean, everybody got excited when there was a clear night because that meant they could locate more of the heavenly constellations.

Constellations and black holes have always captured Georgia’s interest. The group project she worked on was titled The ABC (Amazing Basics of Cosmos) Catalog of the Summer Sky with each camper assigned a specific chapter of the research.

“My job was to research the mythology of the constellations. It was truly fascinating,” she gushed. “Did you know there are five different versions of Orion alone? There’s the story describing Orion as a hunter who was killed by Athena in a very strange way, and the more common version where Orion is the hunter who chased the Pleiades, also known as the seven sisters.”

The three weeks of camp went by in a blur, particularly because of the lack of sleep for Beavers, who didn’t want to miss a thing.

“We didn’t begin the classes until noon,” she said.

“We always had several free times a day, and we worked in our groups every afternoon and evening.”

The schedule looked a little torturous or maybe a bit European as they ate midnight meals and watched stars afterward.

Free times were spent in the observation fields or just hanging out with her new friends and singing songs.

“Thank goodness everybody knew English,” Beavers said with a laugh.

The camp meets at a different location each year, and each location offers a different feel. The students made a couple of excursions to nearby Dresden.

“It was just beautiful even though our first tour was rained out,” Beavers said. Beavers claimed she made friends for a lifetime.

Her dream is to attend one of Dr. Stephen Hawking’s lectures at Cambridge University. Hawkings, an internationally regarded scientist, suffers from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) and continues to write papers and lectures through the use of a computerized program which records the responses made by his eye movements.

“He has always been such an inspiration to me,” Beavers said. “And there were students at the camp who have actually taken classes from him.”

What makes her international science accomplishments all the more admirable is that Beavers has had less chance to shine that some others. She has cerebral palsy, and every day brings physical challenges which require much of her energy.

The ever up-beat Beavers counts her lucky stars that she survived infancy after her premature birth was compounded by multiple medical complications. She was born at UAMS weighing only 2.3 ounces.

“She was a very sick little girl,” Her mother, Debbie Beavers, said.

“People have gotten more and more acceptingofherbecauseshe’sgrownupwith these kids,” Debbie said. “After all the years of therapy, medications, eye surgery and leg braces, she has never once complained.

“When she was in elementary school, I asked how they expected Georgia to earn the Presidential Fitness Award. The principal admitted he didn’t know, but the next day he provided a sheet of modifications for physically disabled children,” Debbie said.

“In this town, if you ask for help, someone will give you what you need.

“Her success wouldn’t have been possible without caring people who served as touchstones for us. People like Kay Dodson, her junior high and high school counselor, and Lavada Padgett, who owns Shinn’s Preschool and Nursery. They were always looking out for Georgia, and they would call me if something was wrong.

Beavers is looking forward to her senior year. Naturally, she has completed her science requirements and is planning to study world religions and advanced creative writing. Beavers loves to write poetry and is looking forward to her new duties as staff member of The Black Couch, the literary magazine for the school.

“I’m going way out on my writing this year. I’m going to make my mark on the school before I leave. I can’t believe this will be my final year.”

Beavers belongs to the Science Club and is planning to join the Chess Club this year after honing her skills with her fellow campers in Germany.

Ultimately, Beavers is hoping to study close to home with Dr. Jeff Robertson, astronomy department head at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville.

“He is awesome, and going to the star parties at Tech have been the highlight of my life, well, and attending camp. I really want to study under him.”

Beavers has her own ideas concerning her station in life.

“I couldn’t have accomplished all this (she throws her arm up indicating the trophies and medals) without the opportunities provided by my fabulous mother and my brilliant father, so I could devote my time to studying,” she said with emotion.

Georgia’s accomplishments haven’t surprised Debbie who always knew her daughter was a star.

“I’m so proud of her. She’s an elegant, young lady who handles everything with a lot of class.”’

“And I have found my voice,” Beavers said smiling. “I’m not so shy anymore.”

Her mother shared the emotional impact of learning her child was different.

“I had to re-think my expectations for her,” she said. “In a way, all the negative stuff I heard did allow her to develop on her own timing. Georgia didn’t walk until she was three years old, but, then, most people told me she’d never walk.”

Never walk? Georgia Beavers was meant to soar.

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