Lewis Hahn, who has been chosen to participate in the National Geographic JASON science project, poses with his science teacher, Christine Arnold, at Sigonella Middle and High School in Sicily.

Lewis Hahn, who has been chosen to participate in the National Geographic JASON science project, poses with his science teacher, Christine Arnold, at Sigonella Middle and High School in Sicily. (Courtesy of the Hahn family)

Though Lewis Hahn still keeps his career options open, the rising high school freshman at Sigonella thinks he would like to become an ornithologist.

In spite of his infatuation for a field that comes naturally to him, it still was surprising when Lewis learned he was one of nine students selected for the National Geographic JASON Project, Lewis said during a phone interview Wednesday while relaxing at his grandparents’ dairy farm in Waynesboro, Pa.

“It was an incredible shock, considering I’m one of nine from the whole country,” he said. The program had 45 applicants.

A recent family safari to Kenya and Tanzania piqued Lewis’ passion for bird-watching, and he thinks becoming a bird scientist “would be so cool.”

Ever since early childhood, Lewis has had a passion for the sciences, said his mother, Kathy Hahn. “He’s always been interested, ever since he could look at birds and animals and bugs. He’s very inquisitive and fascinated in a variety of areas of science.”

The JASON Project, named for the Greek myth “Jason and the Argonauts” and their quest for the Golden Fleece, aims to entice students to learn about science and math through hands-on learning, said Faye Batey, the JASON Project coordinator for Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe.

The DODDS system uses parts of the JASON programming at the middle school levels to expose pupils as much as possible to the lessons, Batey said.

Sixth-graders learn from the “Disappearing Wetlands” projects as part of the standardized sixth-grade science curriculum, and some seventh-graders learn from the “Mysteries of Earth and Mars” project.

“This is such a great program. Students will be working side by side in the field with the researchers,” Batey said.

“A goal of the JASON Project is so students of middle school age can see science as something attainable, something they can do — and you don’t have to be an Einstein.”

For a week this summer, the nine winners, called Argonauts, will study with scientists and researchers in a program themed: “Aquatic Ecology.”

Details of the program are a guarded secret for now, Batey said.

Science just comes naturally said Lewis, who is finishing his eighth-grade year at Sigonella Middle and High School at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Sicily.

He moves this summer to Zama High School in Japan.

“It just seems like it’s natural to me, observing and watching all the things outside. I just love it.”

“I’ve watched Lewis grow as a scientist for three school years now and I’m so proud of him,” his teacher, Christine Arnold, wrote in an e-mail to Kathy Hahn.

“The JASON Argonaut program is such a natural fit for him. I know he’ll take Argonaut duties and adventures with him for the rest of his life and can’t wait to hear all about his summer below the waves.”

He’s an avid hiker, camper and scuba diver.

Next week, Lewis, an Eagle Scout, heads to the Philmont Scouting range in New Mexico for a 79-mile hike through the Rocky Mountains.

Living overseas has given the budding scientist an appreciation for travel, he said.

“It’s the best thing about living overseas. From Sicily, I’ve been to Rome and Germany and France and more. And now we’re moving to Japan. My favorite is Japan. I really like the culture there. The people are friendly, the environment is wonderful and I love the food.”

Get to know JASON better

The JASON Project was started in 1989 as a way to inspire in students a lifelong passion for learning in science, math and technology through hands-on, real-world scientific discovery, according to the organization’s Web site.

Each year, select pupils in fourth to ninth grade “become part of a virtual research community, accompanying real researchers in real time as they explore everything from oceans to rainforests to polar regions and volcanoes,” the site continues. Previous expeditions have been to Hawaii to learn about volcanoes and to Alaska to study its environment.

The project was started by Robert Ballard, a scientist and explorer, after he discovered the ship Titanic. The program is named after Jason, one of the first great explorers, according to Greek mythology.

The JASON Project is endorsed by the National Science Teachers Association and supported by government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Education, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA. It serves nearly 1.7 million students each year, and is used by about 33,000 teachers in the U.S. and abroad, according to the Web site.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

— Stars and Stripes

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