Ceremony Highlights the ERC and Exploration Gallery
The NASA Dryden Educator Resource Center and Exploration Gallery Visitor's Center were rededicated during a May 19 ceremony and ribbon cutting.
The two facilities are located at the Aerospace Education Research and Operations - or AERO - Institute in Palmdale.
Katrina Emery, Dryden education lead and the agency's University Research Center project manager, welcomed people to the event and explained why the rededicated facilities are important.
"We are here today because 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."
NASA will have a national kickoff for "Summer of Innovation" events intended to inspire thousands of students and teachers in math- and science-based programs, Emery said. The events support President Barack Obama's Educate to Innovate initiative aimed at closing the achievement gap in math and science.
The speakers were enthusiastic.
"We have been looking forward to this day for a long time," said Gwen Young, Dryden's associate director for management.
"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," she said.
One example Young cited was the nearby Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility, or DAOF, which is the staging area for a number of NASA science missions involving aircraft. The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, carries the world's largest airborne infrared telescope in the rear of its fuselage. The SOFIA aircraft, a highly modified Boeing 747SP, recently completed a key milestone that set the stage for the first science missions, scheduled for fall.
"It's a 20-year project and it's right in our backyard. We want to bring that excitement to kids through education," she said.
Offering inspiration for teachers, too, can have a big payoff.
"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, especially through events like Thursday Nights on the Square during the summer, provide fertile ground for recruitment and show students the possibilities in math and science careers that "allow their imaginations to soar."
Private industry is here and education is how the future will be shaped, Ledford said.
"Education is a key to preparing a workforce that will inherit what exists at Air Force Plant 42 and Edwards Air Force Base," Ledford said.
To accomplish that goal, Ledford said a better job has to be done to inform the community about what is happening and to inspire and educate the workforce that will be needed to continue the legacy.
"The ERC [Educator Resource Center] is huge. We need to do a better job of connecting with school districts. 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.
The mayor also praised NASA and Dryden for Summer of Innovation plans that will kick off in a few weeks to inspire students with math- and science-focused activities that organizers hope will be part of efforts aimed at closing the achievement gap. Also at the event, Ledford presented Emery and Young with a commendation from the City of Palmdale to Dryden for its dedication to STEM education and its partnership with the city.
To inform, educate and inspire are the key goals of the two facilities.
Cecilia Cordova, informal education program manager, said the newly dedicated Exploration Gallery will soon open with regularly scheduled days and hours, including during the City of Palmdale's Thursday Nights on the Square starting in July.
"I hope that when you visit, you will see the vision I am trying to create there - more experiential learning," Cordova said.
People are encouraged to bring groups to the Exploration Gallery. In addition to teachers and students, special presentations are prepared for groups such as scouting organizations.
Russ Billings, K-12 program manager, said the ERC is open for business.
"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," he said. "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, as showcased in our ERC tonight, and NASA has a renewed commitment to partner with educators to develop new student programs and tap into those that already exist," he said.
Sara Cutts, Dryden ERC coordinator, is ready to help.
"It's exciting. I am so glad it's operational. I hold workshops in the ERC once a month to train teachers how to access and use NASA education materials and now we will also be able to have more open hours to provide teachers the opportunity to use the ERC without having to make an appointment," she said.
The ERC will be open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and teachers of students from kindergarten through high school senior can find lessons on myriad topics, she added.
Also attending were Andre Hollings, field representative for U.S. Rep. Howard P. "Buck' McKeon; Maj. Gen. David Eichhorn, Air Force Flight Test Center commander; Palmdale City Manager Steve Williams; Susan Miller, AERO Institute executive director; Josh Mann, executive director of the Antelope Valley Board of Trade; and chamber of commerce representatives from cities throughout the Antelope Valley.
By Jay levine