This past summer, hundreds faculty and pre-service STEM educators from minority serving institutions from around the country visited one of the 10 NASA Centers to engage in a one of a kind, extraordinary learning experience. For many of the participants, the opportunity to receive professional development at a NASA Center facilitated by an NASA education specialist proved to be a transformative experience with profound personal, professional, and pragmatic implications.
The NASA STEM Educator Professional Development Collaborative (EPDC) and NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) partner to create MUREP Educator Institutes (MEIs) at the 10 NASA Centers across the U.S. The institutes are comprised of student-centered classroom activities that utilize NASA assets and resources and will help educators develop instructional practices that will enhance STEM instruction for all students.
Newly hired as a NASA EPDC Education Specialist, I was selected to attend my first NASA MEI at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in June. During my visit to KSC, I had the honor to meet and work with faculty and pre-service teachers from Florida, Georgia, and Puerto Rico. Collectively, we would explore and be immersed in the world of NASA for an entire week. The energy and excitement throughout the week was palpable and our hosts and facilitators, Dr. Lester Morales, a NASA EDPC Specialist, and his team created the conditions for meaningful learning and engagement.
The MEI Experience
On our first afternoon at KSC, we were given a few hours to traverse through the center to admire, wonder, and learn about NASA’s historic missions to space. An abundance of authentic artifacts such as space suits, shuttles, and other space technology showcased the power of human creativity, imagination and determination. Needless to say, this experience simulated a collective energy and excitement that propelled participants to engage in sustained deep thinking, learning, and conversation.
Throughout our week-long learning experience, Dr. Morales and his team showcased a tremendous amount of NASA educational materials, tools, and resources that triggered both intellectual and emotional responses from the participants. We read about the value of culturally relevant pedagogy and discussed ways to implement strategies into our practice.
We were continuously immersed in hands activities that emphasized deep thinking, collaboration, and teamwork. As we constructed towers using straws and tape, held lunar and meteorite samples and launched paper rockets using two-liter bottles, we collectively discerned that integrating STEM concepts into the classroom can be engaging and fun for both educators and students. We even had a special live video presentation from Regina Spellman, deputy project manager for the Mobile Launcher Element Integration Team in the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program (GSDO).
The days flew by and we left KSC emotionally charged, motivated, and eager to return to our respective spaces to implement our new NASA resources and inspire children to dream big. As a child, I remember seeing televised images of rockets inertly standing by a scenic coastal area before blasting off and launching brave and adventurous men and women into the unknown. I never expected that one day I would actually visit the site where such groundbreaking and life changing events took place.
My trip to KSC permitted me to travel back in time and revisit the sense of wonder and amazement I felt when I saw astronauts valiantly boarding space crafts to explore the vast reaches of space. I also had the privilege of witnessing future teachers develop a deeper passion for STEM, NASA, and commitment to serving our youth. More importantly, I left with an increased level of optimism and sense of hope for the future our youth, schools, and communities.
Dr. Samuel García Jr.
Educator Professional Development Specialist, NASA STEM EPDC
Texas State University