Visitors peruse teaching materials available during the reopening of NASA Dryden's Educator Resource Center at the AERO Institute in the Palmdale Civic Center. (NASA / Tony Landis) To inform, educate and inspire.
Those are the key goals of NASA Dryden Flight Research Center's Educator Resource and Visitor Centers that were rededicated recently in Palmdale, Calif.
Now housed at the Aerospace Education Research and Operations – or AERO –Institute in the Palmdale Civic Center, the Educator Resource Center has a wealth of NASA educational materials available for teachers, informal educators and parents covering science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The adjacent visitor center, also known as the Aerospace Exploration Gallery, focuses on more informal educational displays and exhibits.
Officials of the City of Palmdale, NASA Dryden and the AERO Institute officiated at the formal reopening of the two centers, with an open house following the formal ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Katrina Emery, Dryden's education lead and NASA's University Research Center project manager, outlined the importance of the centers.
"Science, technology, engineering and mathematics are so vitally important to America's global competitiveness," she said. "Unfortunately, our students are falling behind in math and science when compared to our international counterparts. In fact, students' interest in STEM areas has eroded during the past several years. If this continues, we will not be able to meet our workforce needs in the future."
Maj. Gen. David Eichhorn, commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwarxds Air Force Base, gets in front of the camera during a demonstration of NASA Dryden's interactive Digital Learning Network studio by DLN coordinator David Alexander. Gen. Eichhorn represented the AFFTC at the rededication of Dryden's Educator Resource and Visitor Centers at the AERO Institute in Palmdale. (NASA / Tony Landis) Emery noted that NASA will participate in "Summer of Innovation" events intended to inspire thousands of middle-school students and teachers in math- and science-based programs. The events support President Barack Obama's "Educate to Innovate" initiative aimed at closing the achievement gap in math and science.
"Though Dryden is known as the primary backup site for the space shuttle, the decade-old partnership with the AERO Institute has led to development of ways to inform and reach out to the public about Dryden's flight research work and its role in science missions, to inspire teachers and students in STEM subjects," said Gwen Young, NASA Dryden's associate director for management.
"We have a special packet for teachers. We love giving them stuff, as much as they can carry – because when we give that information to teachers we know we are reaching 35 to 40 kids, if not more," Young said.
Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford said the NASA facilities in Palmdale help the city, provide fertile ground for recruitment and show students the possibilities in math and science careers that "allow their imaginations to soar."
"Here are resources that are available for free to help teachers inspire students in math and science. It is our charge. It is our goal. It's something in which we cannot fail," Ledford said.
Cecilia Cordova, NASA Dryden's informal education program manager, said the visitor center / exploration gallery will soon open with regularly scheduled days and hours.
Visitors take note of a variety of displays and exhibits during an open house at NASA Dryden's visitor center in the AERO Institute in Palmdale. (NASA / Tony Landis) "I hope that when you visit, you will see the vision I am trying to create there – more experiential learning," Cordova said.
"The Educator Resource Center is a demonstration of our commitment to not only provide tools that enable students to succeed in the STEM disciplines, but to elevate teachers and emphasize the significant role they play in that success," said Russ Billings, AERO Institute pre-college program manager. "Teaching is a very daunting task, especially now with the changes in the state budgets. We see valuable opportunities to impact kids' lives through teachers, and NASA has a renewed commitment to partner with educators to develop new student programs and tap into those that already exist," he said.
Monthly workshops are held by Dryden ERC coordinator Sarah Cutts at the ERC to train teachers how to access and use NASA education materials. The center is now open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Teachers of students from kindergarten through high school can find lessons on myriad topics, she said.