Bondar’s Foundation Challenges Students

Butterfly Photography

Butterfly Photography

Canadian astronaut Robera Bondar has given a nice boost to a Sault Ste. Marie teen’s developing photography career.

Jennifer Russell, 17, placed first in The Bondar Challenge’s senior division.

The competition, organized by The Roberta Bondar Foundation, encourages students to blend photography and science.

Russell, a Grade 12 student at White Pines collegiate, used her Canon SX20 digital camera to shoot a milkweed on the side of Landslide Hill in October.

She was encouraged to enter the pilot competition by her teachers. When she found an “interesting” article about milkweeds she “went and found one.” An accompanying essay noted the photo’s artistic and scientific background.

Russell was “really excited” with her win, recognized at an awards ceremony Wednesday night at Art Gallery of Algoma.

“I think it’s neat,” she said of a competition that just launched earlier this year with a pilot project involving elementary students in Brampton.

“The whole brining art and science thing together is pretty cool.”

Russell’s prize package included a framed copy of her colour photograph, a certificate and “some interesting photography books.”

She hopes to study photography at college this fall with plans of opening her own studio and, eventually, shooting for National Geographic.

More than 200 students have taken The Bondar Challenge in 2011. Bondar, a Sault Ste. Marie native and first Canadian woman in space, hopes to expand the program to include private school students, seniors and another niche group in 2012.

The two pilot projects this year are “a unique opportunity to apply classroom knowledge to a field situation,” said Bondar.

“It’s how do we take somebody who’s in a school, in a classroom where the things appear in two dimensions and then get them out in the real world where it’s three dimensions and you’re in reality. This really focuses them on a specific task.”

Russell’s photograph was “a great image,” said the Sir James Dunn collegiate graduate.

“She had all kinds of very interesting things going on that didn’t distract, but actually added to the photograph,” said Bondar.

“We all fell in love with it. She was teaching us things (with her essay). She had obviously researched it. It was very helpful. It was a great learning experience for us. That’s something we embrace as judges.”

Her foundation was established in 2008. A brainstorming session with Bondar, former Trent University president Bonnie Patterson, and Betty Roots, a University of Toronto professor who oversaw Bondar’s doctorate studies, prompted the challenge’s creation.

Winning photographs from Brampton and the Sault become part of the foundation’s collection and will be exhibited in other locales, including overseas, where the challenge is held.

“Anytime any of us does a project it becomes part of our lives,” said Bondar, who marks the 20th anniversary of her space flight in 2012.

“The science project I did in high school has determined my direction in my life many, many times more than the reason why I did it in the first place. I think that the opportunity is there for people to see that there are things outside in a natural world that we need to understand and look at.”

One of the organizers of the Sault challenge has ties to Bondar’s space shuttle mission in 1992. Retired teacher Susan Chow created a watercolour painting inspired by Bondar’s flight.

Copies of that work were distributed to Grade 6, 7 and 8 Algoma District School Board students in 2002 to mark the 10th anniversary of her space flight.

Bondar will photograph birds at a wildlife refuge, Bosque del Apache, south of Albuquerque, N.M., from Dec. 18 to Jan. 1.

“I’m very interested in flyways across the world and the world of birds and their environment,” she said.

Bondar’s Within the Landscape: Art Respecting Life continues at Art Gallery of Algoma until Dec. 11.

Award recipients:

Senior division:

Winner: Jennifer Russell (White Pines);

Honorable mention: Christopher Carlyle (Superior Heights).

Intermediate division:

Winners: Athena Chang, Julia Simon (Korah);

Honorable mention: Jesse Cooper-McKinnon (St. Mary’s College), Nikita Olar (Korah), Erin Lee (Korah).

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