“We hear you loud and clear. Welcome aboard the International Space Station.”
And with those words, an auditorium of over 400 middle school students erupted into applause. The excitement was palpable.
In 2019, the National Stem Cell Foundation (NSCF) was awarded a highly competitive NASA In-flight Education Downlink for astronauts on the International Space Station to talk directly to students in STEM Scholar classrooms nationwide. Students from across the country submitted questions that were asked by student representatives from STEM Scholar classrooms in Kentucky during an Earth-to-space conversation with astronauts Nick Hague and Drew Morgan that streamed live globally from the 4-story digital theatre at the Kentucky Science Center (KSC). Nearly 1,200 Kentucky students, teachers and community members assembled for the downlink and a half-day STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) event at KSC and the Frazier History Museum.
“….[O]ur hope is that outreach events like this create excitement and inspiration for those who will become our next generation of scientists, engineers, and explorers.” said Patrick O’Neill, Senior Manager of Marketing and Communications for the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory.
In addition to in-person attendance, classrooms – and, in some cases, entire schools – in 23 states tuned in to watch the downlink on NASA TV. These classrooms are led by STEM Scholars, a prestigious cadre of middle school science teachers who have participated in the National STEM Scholar Program, NSCF’s signature educational initiative.
The National STEM Scholar Program, a collaboration between NSCF and The Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science at Western Kentucky University, provides advanced STEM training, national network building, big-idea project funding and yearlong mentorship for science teachers motivating students at the tipping point of life-long science interest – middle school. There are currently 60 Scholars in 29 states.
Other space education initiatives include a custom space-based curriculum developed for the National STEM Scholar Program by premier space education provider DreamUp. Living Your Best Life…. In Space! is a national science standards-aligned, project-based unit focused on the science of space. Students design and develop the prototype for a product that would be useful during space flight, then present to a panel (whose membership could include teachers, local aerospace and engineering experts, university professors and others) for feedback, recommendations and recognition. Living Your Best Life …. in Space! is available free of charge on the NSCF and DreamUp websites for students, parents and educators worldwide.
“There is a critical need to ignite middle school student interest in STEM subjects now to cultivate the scientists, engineers and explorers of tomorrow. America needs more scientists, so we’re growing them ourselves.” said National Stem Cell Foundation CEO Paula Grisanti.