Development of the American space program in 1970s inspired many astronomy enthusiasts to start observing the sky and build their own telescopes. Village Višnjan, situated near the Croatian coast, was home to such a group of people. One of them, Korado Korlević, went on to study physics and eventually became a teacher in the village primary school. Realizing the potential of his students, he thought they would benefit greatly from being introduced to the world of real scientific research as early as possible.
In 1986, Korado and his colleagues founded the Višnjan School of Astronomy (VSA), an educational program centered around the 10-day summer camp for high-school students. The idea of the camp was to provide students with some experience in research, spark their imagination and motivate them to do more. During the camp, participants would work on a specific project in a small group of three or four, guided by a mentor. The program was accompanied by lectures and regular progress reports given by participants. After the camp was over, they would visit Višnjan periodically to continue working on the projects initiated at the School. In 1990s, participants developed scientific equipment and software for observation of asteroids, making numerous discoveries and placing Višnjan Observatory on the list of world’s most productive observatories by the number of newly discovered asteroids.
A number of VSA participants went on to study astronomy and natural sciences. Having vivid memories of the camp and the impact it had on them, they wanted to provide the younger generation with a similar experience, but with an accent on their own fields of interests: biology, chemistry and physics. As a result, two new summer camps were initiated in 2001: the Summer School of Science for high-school students and Youth Science Camp (YSC) for primary school students.
The first Summer School of Science camp was organized by Jasna Lay, a psychologist from Zagreb, with the help of Korado Korlević. The program was a replica of VSA: a combination of project work, lectures and progress reports given by the students. Participants were high school students selected from science competitions in Croatia. Ana Bedalov, a physics student at the time, was one of the mentors at the first camp and organized the camp in the two following years. By inviting participants from Slovenia and Hungary, she made the School international and introduced English as an official language. In order to have all disciplines represented at the School, young scientists were invited as lecturers and recruited as project leaders for the following year.
In its early years, the School was faced with many challenges. It depended, as it still does, on the enthusiasm of university students and young scientists who are ready to volunteer as organizers and mentors. The primary goal set by the new organizers, Branimir Lukić and Martina Mijušković, both PhD students in Switzerland at the time, was to build a strong community. To engage and attract more undergraduate students to the team, they expanded the program of the School to include a special workshop, called “Swapshop” (as in “swapping” projects). For one afternoon during the School, participants had a chance to work with an undergraduate student on a different topic, a small project of its own. Swapshops developed into a training ground for future mentors and project leaders. Many of them were former School participants who later took over significant roles inside the School. The program further expanded to include different workshops, aiming to put science in a wider social context.
During this period, the School became fully international, enabling more foreign students to experience the School and promoting intercultural understanding. In addition to Hungary, cooperation with similar programs in USA was established. More and more foreign young scientists were attracted as mentors. Lack of equipment and material was a significant challenge though, limiting the range of topics at the School. Most projects were imaginatively done with improvised or borrowed equipment and the School depended greatly on help provided by research groups in Croatia and abroad.
Already in 2005, by creating the Swapshop, an important idea was conceived. It was about older generations of School participants “taking care” of the younger ones. The idea was realized completely when in 2007 the School had enough of human capacity to expand from one to two camps: named S3 and S3++. S3 camp was intended for younger participants (9th and 10th grade) and led by undergraduate students. S3++ camp was intended for older participants (11th and 12th grade) and led by graduate students. Number of participants thus doubled, enabling around 30 students to experience the School each year.
In the period of 2007-2010, the international cooperation was expanded to include participants from France and Serbia. Thanks to donations from many friends and supporters, the labs became better equipped and quality of projects continued to grow. Former participants (Branko Đurđević, Nino Antulov-Fantulin, Tomislav Kokotović) became new organizers. The growing team included former project leaders who become organizers: Anđela Šarić, Marko Košiček, Fran Supek, Nenad Katanić, Matija Piškorec and Anamarija Štafa.
In order to increase the organizing and fundraising capabilities, a non-profit organization Society for Out-of-Frame Education (short: EVO) was founded in December 2010. The Society was founded by all 11 former School organizers from the period of 2004-2010.
One of our project leaders, Sebastijan Dumančić, has kept strong connections with his professors in his local Gymnasium in Požega. Newly built and furnished in 2009, with the help of the headmaster Pavle Bucić and financial help of city of Požega, the Gymnasium has become a perfect spot for expansion of the Summer School of Science. Therefore, in 2013 we got a new home in the city of Požega. This enabled the new organizers Sebastijan Dumančić, Petra Pušić, Neva Margetić and Petra Krznar to have more than 35 students and almost 15 project leaders for the first time!
In the forthcoming years, we had excellent organizers which managed to attract many well-known scientists, even the Nobel prize winner Sir Tim Hunt, as well as some companies to help us fund our cause (Amgen, Abbvie, The Company of Biologists). Jelena Tica and Matilda Maleš have become an amazing indispensable fundraising crew which helped us to gain more visibility and international recognition. New people also joined organization in 2015 and 2016: Domagoj Alagić, Petra Bucić, Dora Grbavac, Tin Kocijan, Snježana Kodba, Nikolina Šoštarić, Dijana Tolić and Dunja Vučenović.
Nowadays, our main challenges remain to be fundraising and equipment. If you wish to help us in our cause, please check more information under donations. Except fundraising, our goals continue to be extending networking and building our community in order to expand our reach to larger numbers of high-school students interested in science from all over the world.