Bend, OR – Production and distribution of the documentary “Reach for the Stars” is moving ahead thanks to the generous support of the Heising-Simons Foundation in the form of a $295,000 grant. At the center of the documentary is Charity Woodrum, a woman of unparalleled determination and strength who stands as a role model for girls and young women around the world in her passion for science and pursuit of becoming an astrophysicist.
Cyndi Atherton, Science program director at the Heising-Simons Foundation, recognizes the need to draw the circle wider for astronomy to include people with a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and life paths. “Charity’s persistence and motivation to stay in science is an inspiration to us all” she notes.
The evocative film will tell the story of Woodrum’s dream of becoming an astrophysicist and how that dream was nearly shattered by a family trip that ended in tragedy with the deaths of her beloved husband and 3-year-old son. At the time, Woodrum was a nontraditional student at the University of Oregon. She was a first generation high school graduate from Canyonville, Oregon who returned to school to study physics after becoming an RN and starting a family. She was thriving and had completed a NASA internship. Her life felt perfect and the possibilities ahead — just like the galaxies she studied — seemed limitless.
Then came what Woodrum describes as, “the worst day.” On a weekend trip to the Oregon coast in 2017, Woodrum lost her family to a sneaker wave that dragged both father and son out to sea. Woodrum survived and was hospitalized for shock and trauma. Slowly, and with help from friends, university staff and complete strangers who rallied to her side, Woodrum began a journey to emerge from her anguish. Fighting panic attacks and PTSD, she returned to school and devoted herself to her studies.
Upon graduation, she earned a National Science Foundation fellowship and is now a 4th year Ph.D. candidate in astrophysics at the University of Arizona. When the James Webb Space Telescope begins transmitting images and data this summer, Woodrum will be one of the astrophysicists conducting unprecedented research on never-before-seen pictures from space. “I study the history of star formation in galaxies and JWST will enable us to see a currently missing piece of this history, back to the early universe when the first galaxies were formed.” She is most excited about the discoveries they can’t right now even imagine.
Today, Woodrum is still navigating her way through her grief and uses the stars as well as connecting with others as her guide. “My resilience comes from telling my story, finding community, pursuing my passions, and trying to help others who are struggling,” she says.
“We’re so grateful for the incredible support from the Heising-Simons Foundation and the other organizations and individuals who recognize the value in sharing Charity Woodrum’s powerful story,” says the film’s director and producer, Sandy Cummings, an Emmy-award winning broadcast journalist and independent filmmaker. “Charity will undoubtedly inspire others to follow their wildest dreams.”
The film is currently in production. In addition to the support from the Heising-Simons Foundation, the film is made possible by Roundhouse Foundation, The Starview Foundation, and Research Corporation for Science Advancement. Fiscal sponsorship provided by The International Documentary Association. To learn more about the film visit https://tvstoryteller.com/reach-for-the-stars