Western U.S. Blossoms from a Recent Infusion of STEM Engagement

Just outside of Seattle sits Renton Prep Christian School, a premier Microsoft showcase school for students spanning grades Pre-K to 10th. Renton’s curriculum encourages students to embrace emerging technology while developing critical-thinking skills through a student-driven, non-traditional curriculum. For example, upon the completion of 10th grade, students are expected to dual enroll in college classes for the final two years of high school.

Steven Smith, an education specialist from NASA’s Johnson Space Center, met with more than 200 Renton students in all grade levels during his visit, but honed in on connecting specifically with high school students on the brink of a bright future. While future Artemis generation was informed about topics like upcoming human missions to the Moon, the Commercial Crew Program and aviation, teachers were instructed on where they could find free NASA educational resources to enhance their coursework.

STEM Engagement
Education Specialist Steven Smith from NASA’s Johnson Space Center
dresses in a giant astronaut costume affectionately dubbed “Eva” and
poses for pictures with children at an event in Navajo, New Mexico. Image
Credit: NASA/Steven Smith

Following the event with Renton, Smith headed down to Navajo, New Mexico, where he collaborated with Texas State University and other NASA colleagues in support of three events with Navajo Technical University, or NTU — a school recently accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. NTU is the only tribal college to receive this level of accreditation.

On Sept. 11, the Education Professional Development Collaborative, or EPDC, hosted a professional development workshop for 15 teachers. A day later, on Sept. 12, they engaged 256 students and 26 teachers in STEM-centered demonstrations, including the hands-on “Touchdown” activity and other Next Gen STEM learning opportunities.

The final event at the Crownpoint Navajo Chapterhouse welcomed local families who had participated in various STEM-related activities, including Mars rover challenges, crafting straw rockets, building Orion models and Oculus virtual reality tours. More than 50 students and families enjoyed the immersive gathering.

One teacher, Marie Ippel from Rehoboth Christian School in Rehoboth, New Mexico, was excited that her students got the opportunity to attend.

“Thank you again for all that you did for us this week,” Ippel enthused. “In all four classes that I taught this morning, the kids were full of questions and ideas about space. Their eyes were sparkling! We have some really fun conversations stemming from what they did and saw yesterday. I think some of them are going to go home and try to zip themselves into a suitcase to see if they can qualify to go to Mars in 20 years!”