Meet Camille Schrier. She’s a doctorate student at Virginia Commonwealth University, a lover of chemistry, and as of December 19th, she is the official 2020 Miss America. Prior to being crowned, Camille did something that delighted her audience and inspired young girls everywhere: she did a science experiment.
The Miss America pageant has traditional stereotypes that aren’t the most inspirational for young girls wanting to become professionals, experts in their fields, or trailblazers for the future. This year, however, the winner was a young woman who was passionate about making a statement and did just that. She showed beyond the shadow of a doubt that Miss America could also be a science expert…and an astonishingly entertaining one at that. Take a look at the scientific spectacle that won her the crown:
“Miss America is someone that needs to educate, be able to communicate with everyone, and that’s what I do as a woman of science. And we need to show that Miss America can be a scientist and that a scientist can be Miss America.”
The future of scientific advancement is an opening playing field for all genders. As a new decade takes hold of the world, we’re all watching excitedly as education grows, adapts, and improves. “We are delighted to see a Virginia Tech science alumna shine on the national stage,” states dean of the College of Science at Virginia Tech, Sally Morton, “and we’re even more thrilled that she is using her success to showcase the value of STEM education for kids and as a catalyst to encourage young girls to study science and do science.”
2019 is coming to a close, and what a year it has been, From Burlington to Korea and all the way to the high seas, our team of Guardians has been on a nonstop rollercoaster of adventures. For the final blog post of the decade, let’s take a look back at some of the highlights from 2019.
In March we celebrated the Spring Equinox with some Sumerian flare. A group of courageous young heroes rallied in The Castle one cool evening and encountered some terrifying creatures lurking in the shadows. They defeated the monsters and solved various puzzles, granting them an audience with a great spirit.
When June arrived, so did our summer camps at a new location, Salem State University. The adventures began with zombies overtaking the campus and young heroes, NERF blasters in hand, running headfirst into battle.
In August, our founder and CEO Meghan Gardner packed her bags and traveled to South Korea to join forces with some of the brightest minds in STEM education. She also had the opportunity to speak for a crowd of future heroes, spreading positivity and inspiration for the future to come.
In September, Guard Up turned a whopping twenty years old! We celebrated our birthday with our incredibly supportive community and families as our annual Spar-B-Q. We also unveiled a new identity for the company with a new name, Guardian Adventures, and an even more devoted commitment to promoting STEM education, creativity, and adventure. We also participated, as we do every year, in the Bedford Day parade, breathing fire in the streets for awestruck onlookers.
In October, our annual Day Of The Dead event came to The Castle. Children, teens, and adults alike enjoyed an endless supply of food, community, creatures, characters, educational activities, and foam sword fun. Although a strange being caused some mischief, the young heroes were able to save the day as always and were rewarded accordingly.
As the year came to a close, December brought some of our most exciting accomplishments. We publicly announced our partnership with Royal Caribbean Cruises, bringing our STEM-based adventures all over the world. Today, there are young heroes saving the world as they sail the seven seas, and learning a little something along the way.
We also had the opportunity to bring our Guardian magic to the Cary Memorial Library STEM Invasion in Lexington. When the lights went off at closing time, one hundred teens witnessed the bookshelves come to life as characters leaped from their pages and began causing a ruckus in the library. The teens used quick wits and creativity to banish the characters back to their books and successfully saved the library from eternal mayhem.
Phew! It’s crazy to think that we packed all that into just one little year. The decade may be over but our story is just beginning. The new year promises some even more thrilling adventures and big announcements from your friendly neighborhood Guardians. Stay tuned to your weekly UpDate to keep up with us as we race into 2020, foam swords raised high.
One piece of new year news we can share is the introduction of Superheroes to our summer camp experience! The addition of a new class of character at camp is bound to shake things up and add some epic encounters to the adventure. You can even get a sneak peek this Friday evening at our free Innovation Night event (preregistration required).
If you thought this year flew by, you can expect next summer arrive just as rapidly. Register for camp now before the last minute rolls up faster than you planned for.
From all of us at Guardian Adventures, thank you for an amazing 2019 and have a very happy new year!
In this week’s blog post, we’ll dive into a recent interview with Meghan Gardner, our fearless founder and CEO here at Guardian Adventures. This year has been filled with growth, change, and gigantic leaps for the Guardians. We’ve gone global with a cruise line, we’ve stacked our staff with incredible young professionals, and we’ve celebrated a landmark twenty years of adventuring. With all of this in mind, we take a look at what makes us us, and what got us here in the first place…
Research shows that 80 percent of all learning, whether you’re a child or an adult, is acquired through informal methods. Informal Education is defined as the delivery of learning opportunities outside of a formal learning environment (such as schools and certification programs). Those who provide informal education also know that a primary benefit of the practice is that it can tap into our desire to be emotionally engaged with what we’re trying to learn.
One person who is very familiar with this concept is Meghan Gardner, Founder, and CEO of Guardian Adventures, an educational organization that provides immersive story-based activities and events for STEM/STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics).
While she agrees there are certainly elements of rote memorization which are important when it comes to traditional education, Gardner also thinks schools need to adopt a much more story-based learning approach. “I think formal education has a model that works well for only a percentage of the population. It’s mostly a memorize-and-test model with very little context to the student’s current life. As story-telling animals who have learned through stories since we were living in caves and long before written language, we learn best when provided an immersive story which captures our interest, especially emotional engagement, and provides narrative context.” Gardner adds that our schools’ biggest accomplishment should be to teach students how to learn, and adds they could do this by providing more learning options such as story-based education.
The Adventure—and Learning—Begins Here
Although the organization started in 1999 as a school for martial arts and swordplay, Guardian Adventures has expanded dramatically over the past two decades. While they still offer fencing classes, their main activities involve exciting and intricate stories that require solving mysteries and navigating story challenges while using STEM and STEAM principles.
As well, all of their programs foster the development of critical core values such as honor, courage, and compassion—in addition to important life skills such as team building, critical thinking, and creative problem-solving. Along the way, participants also learn the basics of chemistry, biology, physics, conservation, literature, and language arts.
“Our heroes revel in these living adventures and learn a thing or two in the process. Many activities are designed to promote formal education. For example, our spells are in Latin and other languages waiting to be deciphered. Our potion-making class involves chemistry lessons, and our participants learn about environmental science while hiking the woods near our outdoor camp. Each of these subjects encourages the student to consider school and other formal education environments as a resource for excelling in the adventure.” Exploring different cultures is another focus of the Guardian Adventures programs. To that end, the organization has worked with The Center for Arabic Culture, Arawak and Abenaki Native American cultural educators, as well as Bulgarian, Japanese, and Moroccan cultural educators.
Today Guardian Adventures creates and conducts programs, events, camps, and consultations for individuals and corporations around the country and indeed around the world. In fact, in recent years, its reach has expanded to a global audience and now provides consulting and curriculum development for a number of companies including Fortune 500 in the USA and Ed-tech companies in Asia.
STEM and STEAM Design For All
Gardner admits they’ve come a long way from the early days when she conducted martial arts classes in the basement of a local recreation center (hence the original corporate name, Guard Up, Inc.). Gardner, who is also a guest lecturer at The Harvard Graduate School of Education, says she adopted the name Guardian Adventures to better reflect their mission as a pre-eminent source and curator of STEM and STEAM story-based informal education. “We decided to change our name as a way to keep a nod to our past while also recognizing our present and future.”
Today, Guardian Adventures services span a wide breadth of activities, programs, and events at their brick and mortar facility located in Burlington, MA. The programs are varied and include classes, summer and school break camps, birthday parties, and celebrations for other milestone events. Gardner adds that Guardian Adventures also provides offsite turnkey programs for client conferences, libraries, and museums. The organization offers a long list of services for companies that wish to conduct their own custom adventure activities, including:
Custom costuming and props
Video and sound production services
And the ability to beta test and workshop new games.
As well, for those in the corporate world, Guardian Adventures designs and conducts retreats that promise to revive, reconnect, and bond adult attendees.
The Power of Storytelling
“Our participants have the chance to learn about historical figures (like Semiramis, Queen of the Assyrian Empire in 811 BCE), mythological beings (like Tianlong, a Chinese Dragon), or characters from literature (such as Oberon from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream) by interacting with our professional actors who portray them,” says Gardner, who adds that her staff members heavily research these characters and rely on our cultural educators for as much of an accurate portrayal as possible. “We all know that stories are one of the best vehicles for teaching since they capture our attention, but interactive stories spark our creativity and inspire our dedication.”
Indeed, at its core, Guardian Adventures is all about the storytelling. Gardner recalls how years ago bedtime hour with her then-young children involved what is now the core of Guardian Adventures. “When my kids were little, I would tell them a bedtime story in which they were the heroes. I would present them with a situation then ask how they might resolve that situation. That’s where their imagination came in. As we made up the next part of the story, I began to see this was a powerful way to assess where my kids were in their decision-making skills, and also was able to witness how the story inspired them to learn.”
Gardner says once she realized the power of interactive storytelling with her kids, the next logical step was to transfer this concept from her home base to her company. So, she hired a handful of teachers who were familiar with “Live Action Role Play,” (LARP), which could be applied to Guardian Adventure’s interactive story-based events. “We developed a program many kids couldn’t find anywhere else—a place where learning was exciting and engaging as well as physically active (using foam swords, NERF blasters, costumes and props). It wasn’t long before the story-based adventures far outgrew the martial arts program, and so I adjusted the company’s emphasis towards these adventures.”
The “Story” Continues: Expanding the Boundaries For the Future
What’s ahead for the future? A lot, says the CEO, who adds that in these past twenty years they’ve just scratched the surface. Future plans include the purchase of a much larger building that will allow them to accommodate the increasing demand for their programs, as well as for workshops and space to playtest other company’s games and events. They are also in hiring mode, looking for educators who want to teach in a highly creative and dynamic way.
Want to get hired at Guardian Adventures? You most likely need a background in the theater arts field, coupled with an undergraduate teaching degree or a Masters of Education. The current staff is made up of more than 20 professionals who specialize in story writing, production design, acting, and secondary education.
In addition, Guardian Adventures plans to further augment their international consulting focus. In the past, they partnered with professors from Harvard Graduate School of Education to create a Mission to Mars summer camp for ST Unitas, a large tech-ed organization in Asia and the parent company of The Princeton Review. During the camp, attendees spent a week studying at Harvard University, then applied their lessons during an interactive STEM-based Mars adventure at Guardian Adventures in Burlington.
Gardner says Guardian Adventures continues to be contracted by large and small corporations alike, including Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, who now runs their STEM adventures onboard the Oasis of the Seas, the 4th largest cruise ship in the world. “Our company is growing quickly, and we would like to add more offerings to meet the demand and ever-changing needs of our clients while staying on the cutting edge of both effective education and exciting adventures.
Our mission is to inspire lifelong learners who want to make a difference in the world. Because if there is one thing this world could use more of, it’s leaders who are hungry to learn and eager to solve the problems facing humanity.”
On the seventh of December at seven o’clock in the evening, the doors to Cary Memorial Library were locked in attempts to contain the magic that had suddenly burst from the bookshelves. One hundred teens stood in awe as creatures and characters from classic literature stood before them, no longer bound to their original pages. The library had come alive, so what’s an unsuspecting librarian to do? Grab a Guardian!
Guardian Adventures was thrilled to collaborate with Cary Memorial Library in Lexington MA on their event “Night At The Library.” One hundred teens attended the evening, not quite sure what they were about to encounter. What they found was a fully immersive adventure complete with heroes, villains, and some whacky characters too, all residing in various nooks and crannies of the library.
The teens were grouped by genre and escorted throughout the adventure by famous authors from their genre, including Edgar Alan Poe, Mary Shelley, and Shakespeare just to name a few. The authors’ beloved characters, both good and evil, had somehow escaped from the confines of their books. Every character needed to be returned by ten o’clock or the library may never return to normal. The teens accepted the quest to assist their authors and began their adventure, unaware of the danger lurking in the shadows of the bookshelves.
It all began somewhat easily, with simple characters known as Inklings causing mayhem. The teens quickly discovered that if they got the Inklings to touch a blank page they would become entrapped as their ink bonded with the paper. Once caught, the Inklings could be sent back into the world of literature through a giant magical book called The Codex, protected by the librarians. It all seemed fairly simple…but the next wave of baddies was on its way.
Next came the Blots. They were more powerful than the Inklings and much more devious. In the ranks of the Blots we found familiar characters like the pirate Smee enjoying his freedom from employment under Hook, a discombobulated Victor Von Frankenstein frantically searching for his lost monster, and even The Mad Hatter, straight from Wonderland, deep in a game of chess. The teens could choose to help the characters as they reveled in their newfound freedom or attempt to capture them and return the Blots to their books. However, when the teens tried to trap the Blots on blank pages, they discovered that the new characters were a bit too strong for such a simple trap. Instead, the authors used the power of penmanship to write commands, forcing the Blots to return, retreat, or occasionally “shhh,” (as librarians often say).
As ten o’clock neared, most of the characters had been returned to their appropriate books, but the worst was yet to come. Without warning, some of the literature’s most terrifying baddies emerged from the bookshelves and they certainly had no interest in returning. These were the Lexiconstructs, with names like Loki, Captain Hook, and the horrible Kraken!
With a little creativity, bravery, and a trusty librarian at their side, the teens successfully defeated the Lexiconstructs and banished them through the Codex. One last villain remained though and this one was going to be the most difficult to vanquish.
The teens regathered to share what they’d learned about the Inklings, Blots, and Lexiconstructs. It seemed that they had the tools and knowledge needed to save the day, and so they returned to the center of the library for their final encounter. A firey Eye of Sauron burned from the wall as sounds of thunder and volcanoes echoed through the halls. Standing high atop the spiral staircase loomed The Witch King with an assembly of Orcs. It was revealed that the Witch King was responsible for the outbreak of villains, having granted them each a magical ring of power. The Lord Of The Rings universe was no longer enough for the Witch King and it seemed that ours was next.
By rewriting a part of Tolkien’s tale and reading aloud in unison, the teens were able to banish the Witch King into its own fires of Mordor that bubbled and burned atop the spiral staircase. The rings of power were cast into the flames, the lights came back on, and the library was saved!
To all our wonderful volunteers, amazing librarians, incredible staff, and courageous attendees, we’d like to say thank you for a simply magical evening of adventure. Who says you have to be quiet in the library?
This past summer, we were contacted through Facebook Messenger by Royal Caribbean Cruises. They wanted us to create interactive STEM adventures for their newly renovated Oasis of the Seas, the 4th largest cruise ship in the world. The deadline was tight, but our team pulled together and presented adventures that were way beyond anything Royal Caribbean had ever attempted before. They decided to take the leap and gave us the green light.
Since the summer, we have been designing these adventures under a strict non-disclosure agreement but, now that the ship has sailed, we can tell you all about it.
After submitting the curriculum and instructions, Chris Wiley, our Director of Curriculum Development, and Meghan Gardner, Founder of Guardian Adventures, traveled to Miami to help Royal Caribbean create training videos and documentation for their staff. Soon after, Chris and Meghan were flown to Cadiz, Spain to train the ship’s staff while the ship was still under construction. There were times when hard hats were necessary in order to access parts of the ship so that they could finish the last touches on the adventures.
The contract has been completed and Royal Caribbean is delighted. We are also quite excited to know that our adventures will be experienced by even more people as Royal Caribbean decided to roll out identical versions of our adventures to at least 4 other ships. This means that the adventures we designed for them will be accessible to about 1 million patrons a year across the globe.
The initial review from their clients is that our adventures for the ship are a big success! As such, we have been informed by Royal Caribbean’s Manager of Product Innovation that we can expect our contract to expand in 2020.
What does this mean for Guardian Adventures? As we continue to serve Royal Caribbean as well as other large organizations, our future plans for purchasing a facility have become more accessible and clearer. We are exploring adding various development facilities such as a Maker Space for our students as well as for building our own props and costumes, improved technology for higher level immersion in our adventures, and even a video production room where our marketing department can create in-game videos for complementing the story presented to Heroes.
Our new Consulting & Development Division has grown quite a bit from our work with the Princeton Review’s parent company in South Korea, ST Unitas. With this in mind, you may notice some new staff positions being filled which will help us grow our camps and weekly adventures so that the quality of our programming matches the work we are providing in our consulting contracts. We are also on a quest to constantly innovate and try different genres of adventures, including play testing our new Super Hero camp and events.
We encourage you to check out Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas if you are considering a cruise vacation. We might even see you in January when we are returning to the ship to assess the staff development and training for the adventures we designed.
You may also notice some changes on our website as we expand on our Education & Consulting section. Now that we are performing large scale Invasion Adventures (that’s a teaser for a future Update where you will find out about the Lexington Library Invasion involving more than 150 teens, staff, and volunteers), we will be providing more details about our services for organizations that are interested in exciting adventures for their clients and patrons.
Along with this exciting growth, we are also expanding our Scholarship & Financial Aid programs considerably. It has been our ongoing objective to make sure that every Hero can enjoy our programs and events and not be held back by limited finances. So if you are struggling with tuition or program fees, please talk to us. Our company will never outgrow our heart.
As 2020 quickly approaches, we look forward to continuing to serve you while constantly innovating and offering new services and programs for all ages and all kinds of Heroes.
Guardian Adventures is a company specializing in informal STEM education programs and camps. In addition, we provide weekly classes in swordsmanship and fencing as well as custom themed birthday parties and events.