Teacher Stowaway – Working for Room and Board

Janel Hershey, Bellevue School District Teacher

Guest Blog

Tyee Middle School teacher, Janel Hershey, gets a tour inside Alvin during the VISIONS19 program.

This is a ship I cannot sleep on. Everything is different from being on land. The rolling of the waves, noises of the engine, sloshing sounds of waves against the hull, echoing of a 24-hour working metal city, and shared “head” for 5 people that sounds like it is situated right by my pillow. But none of these are why I can’t sleep. My eyes are constantly wide open, my brain won’t let them shut. I am listening and looking at all the work going on around me. Soaking it up, because I am so lucky to be here, to be among these brilliant people doing amazing work.


So here I am, a stowaway. A freeloader. I am not paid, and I have not paid for university credit. And skills? Nope. I have no ship worthy skills, there are no 8th graders here to monitor behavior or assess learning, and my science knowledge is general biology and middle school big ideas. Oh, then there are my computer and technology skills. I will grade myself as below standard among the company I am keeping on A/V Atlantis. When I feel like I have so little to contribute, I wonder why my application to join was accepted. But here I am, and so I will try to earn my keep. I help where I can.

I take 4-hour shifts sitting in a dark shipping container, staring at 20-ish monitors, listening to engineers and scientists, transcribing a play-by-play of what is happening, asking questions, and trying to understand what is going on. And I am in heaven. In 4 days, half way through my journey, my scientific spirit has been lifted higher than ever. I am inspired to learn more, be curious, ask questions, and dream wider than ever before. I am excited for the university students I am meeting because they have had this experience so early in their life.

Supplies of a Stowaway

I am grateful to the scientists and engineers that do the hard work of understanding the world around us and using their collective problem solving to answer questions we have. And I am truly appreciative that they have all welcomed my questions and work to make me feel a part of what is going on.

So, I will keep working and contributing where I can. But truly this experience is life changing. I can’t wait to start translating my experience into teaching. How do I activate the curiosity in students to join the work of science and engineering? How do I help them know that there are endless learning and working possibilities if they look at their interests? I am a stowaway to a destination yet to be determined and that leads to personal new discovery.