Tuesday, November 28, 2017

STEM Education Initiative: Inspiring Students to Fall In Love with Our Universe

Speaking with 7th and 8th graders in Pennsylvania

My favorite part are the questions. Some of them ask me to repeat information I already gave, some of them are absurd, and some of them are truly insightful for such young students. Eyes light up and imaginations expand when these kids learn of what’s going on with human spaceflight now and imagine themselves as space travelers. These dreamers make my time and effort worth it every time.

Once or twice per month, I get a chance to speak with students of multiple ages and in many locations. Sometimes I can travel in person and speak with these young learners face-to-face. Sometimes I’m unable to travel to speak in person because of the distances involved, as was the case with an aspiring group of engineers in Iraq, and we use internet video instead. I’m still able to converse and show off lab props over a screen, sometimes even better than in person.

Most of the students I speak with are late elementary school, middle school, and early high school aged, interested in many areas but most likely undecided about their future career paths. I often start out the conversation by asking them what they want to be when they grow up and if any of them want to be scientists. The range and complexity of answers I receive is astounding. These kids, as young as some of them are, are already forming images of themselves in careers. How many of them have pictured themselves doing space-related work, whether they’re an aspiring aeronautical engineer or an artist?

A couple years ago, I spent some months tutoring a group of high school girls living in a foster home. They were normal teenage girls living through extraordinary circumstances. In some cases, the lack of positive role models or complete information put them at a disadvantage as they prepared for adulthood. I was struck by one girl who informed me that she’ll probably become a stripper when she graduates high school because she likes to dance. Only by continuing the conversation did she begin to realize her job options were much larger and less limiting than she had previously concluded.

How many students are not even aware of their potential because they haven’t been exposed to information that can open their minds? How many students lack positive and relatable role models despite being surrounded by teachers and other potential mentors? How many students know that they really can achieve a STEM career if that’s what they want to do? How many students know that they can write space stories (fiction and nonfiction), draw space art, make a profit through space businesses, develop government policies and international treaties related to space, and dance in the microgravity of space, without any STEM inclination at all?

My hope is that by volunteering my time to speak with these students, I can open their minds and help them picture a different world, a world where they can be involved in space if they want to be. I do not charge for these speaking engagements. My company Astralytical does not pay for my time nor travel costs. My volunteer STEM education efforts cost me money, which I consider to be worth it.

If you so choose, you can help me in my goal of inspiring students to fall in love with the Universe. Your donation can help offset time, travel, and supply costs. You can be right there in the classroom with me, so to speak. Please give me and these students a little boost if you’re able.

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