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IU eclipse scholars support communities ahead of major tourism event

Mar 6, 2024

Hoosiers from Vincennes to Richmond are anticipating hundreds of thousands of visitors to flock to Indiana in April, eagerly seeking their spot in the path of totality of the April 8 solar eclipse. For small communities along the path, this means major event preparation paired with a creative approach that will entertain, inspire and delight.

Though the total eclipse will last just a few minutes, the efforts that communities take to prepare and plan are a capacity-building activity for future arts and culture events that bring residents and visitors together.

Students in a conference room Center for Rural Engagement Eclipse Scholars gather for their orientation on Feb. 2, 2024. Photo courtesy of the Center for Rural Engagement

“For rural communities in the path of the eclipse, this is both a time of excitement and anxiety,” said Denny Spinner, Indiana University Center for Rural Engagement interim executive director. “It is a perfect opportunity to leverage the energy and creativity of IU students to expand local capacity in preparation for this major event.”

Cue the IU eclipse scholars, 15 undergraduate students who are supporting community projects and events connected to the celestial phenomenon. The scholars dedicate up to 10 hours each week leading up to the eclipse to support a community’s programs and events, such as festivals, educational seminars and collaborative art projects.

Ellie Albin, a senior journalism student in The Media School from Fishers, Indiana, works with the Owen County Chamber of Commerce to coordinate and train volunteer eclipse hosts and assist with additional communications needs that emerge. An Ernie Pyle Scholar, Albin will also document the event in a capstone long-form story about the ways this rural community comes together for this major event.

“I hope to work at a rural newspaper right out of college, so I know this experience will help me prepare for that as well,” Albin wrote in her program introduction.

Part of a larger rural eclipse program supported by the Simons Foundation as part of its In the Path of Totality initiative, the IU Center for Rural Engagement is assisting rural communities across the state through a microgrant program, planning resources and connections with students and faculty to expand their efforts.

The solar eclipse’s path of totality April 8 will cover a segment of the U.S., Mexico and Canada, including a large part of Indiana. People in the path will experience up to four minutes of darkness as the moon shadows the sun. The next time Indiana will fall in a solar eclipse’s path of totality will be 2099.

Albin reflected on the ways her upcoming graduation from IU and the total solar eclipse have aligned.

“It’s kind of weird to be experiencing these once-in-a-lifetime events,” Albin said. “Right now, it’s actually a lot to process emotionally, because it all feels like ultimately it’s just like a blink of an eye and it’s gone.”

The eclipse scholars will participate in an eclipse symposium and final poster session displaying their work this spring. The event is open to the public and will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. April 29 at Maxwell Hall’s Grand Hall on the Bloomington campus.

A full list of students who are serving Indiana communities as eclipse scholars is available on the Center for Rural Engagement’s website.

Author

IU Center for Rural Engagement

Kyla Cox Deckard

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