Yesterday, the CER interns were given the opportunity to complete a private tour of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), located in Greenbelt, Maryland. Touring the facilities was like getting a chance to go to Space Camp for a day, but for a group of college students! We were shown the James Webb Space Telescope, the largest space telescope currently in development. We were also shown around the facilities, which measure frequencies, vibrations, and light in order to best research how these devices will be used in space. We were given the chance to enter a space simulator that made it look – and feel! – like we were orbiting the globe.
Despite the space simulator and flashy gadgets, my favorite part of the day was a working lunch with Dean Kern, the deputy director of the GSFC Office of Education. A former charter school principal, Mr. Kern showed us not only the crucial importance of STEM education, but also how the traditional public school model fails students when it comes to STEM. Despite a modest budget, NASA’s Office of Education is working hard to close the well-documented STEM achievement gap, which fails marginalized minority groups in STEM opportunities. The statistics are staggering: 30% of high schools with the highest percentage of Black and Latino students do not offer chemistry; 25% of these high schools don’t offer Algebra II; and half of our nation’s high schools don’t offer calculus.
High schools should be the place students, especially women and minorities, first develop their interests and passions. With just 20% of the STEM workforce being comprised of women, African Americans, and Latinos it’s obvious NASA has its work cut out for them to truly integrate the field and provide equal opportunities to all. With high standards being set for K-12