NASA Deputy Administrtor Lori Garver, second from right, spoke to Dryden student workers and new employees to gain insight into how young people think and how they can help advance NASA goals aimed at inspiring new generations of engineers and retaining new recruits. (NASA Photo / Tom Tschida) NASA officials aren't just talking about attracting next-generation researchers. They are asking young people how to best communicate with a generation that has a number of ways to get its information and also how to retain enthusiastic recruits.
When NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver visited Dryden Aug. 21, she listened to what people in student programs and recently hired employees had to say about communicating to the new generations, what their work is like, why they chose NASA and why they plan to continue working for the agency.
"You can relate more to kids than we can," Garver said. "Part of the plan is to get people like you into the schools to inspire students."
Acting Center Director David McBride, a Dryden co-op student in 1982 and inspired by an astronaut visit to a school he attended as a child in a small town in New Mexico, ranks among former cooperative education students at Dryden. Recently retired Center Director Kevin Peterson also was a cooperative education student in the early 1970s.
One challenge with NASA reaching young people is there are many more ways that young people are getting their information and getting the agency's message out is more expensive than in decades past, Garver said. Among those in the room, none of the students received their news from newspapers and some did not get information from traditional media, rather getting their news from television comedy news shows.
One student said that science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, career paths are usually taken by a student who has a parent in one of those fields. Another student suggested that was the result of people having a general fear of or aversion to math and science.
Daniela Cruzado is an accounting student who said NASA's mission used to be clear, but that in recent years it hasn't been as focused. NASA needs to clearly communicate what it does in order to inspire students as it has in the past.
Cruzado also suggested that reaching out to students in high school and college is a good idea, but that might be too late in a young person's development of ideas about what career path they might follow. Elementary and junior high/middle school students could more easily get on a path leading to math and science careers, rather than finding out about requirements for that career path when it is more complex for the student to react to their new interests when in high school or even in college.
"We need to plant the seeds at an early age," Cruzado said.
Mike Staab is a co-op student working in the controls branch on the Integrated Resilient Aircraft Control project, part of the Aeronautic Research Mission Directorate Aviation Safety program.
Staab said he was inspired by stories from a former engineering co-op student to pursue an engineering career when he was in high school and deciding what he was going to do in college.
"I am very impressed. The stories I heard are true. They really give you a project you're involved in hands-on that has an effect on aviation, space, or part of the NASA mission directorates," he said.
Kate Scoggin is a cooperative education student in the Dryden resources area who is active in various student groups, including lead for one that extends to a number of NASA centers called the Co-op Agency Connection. In bimonthly teleconferences, the group deals with issues across the centers as they are raised. It started a few years ago, but ramped up in the spring at Dryden.
She suggested to Garver that group and the Dryden New Professionals Group, comprised of people with less than five years' experience and started by Chris Regan, could be good resources.
Scoggin valued the ability to express her opinions and concerns with the deputy administrator.
Of interest to Scoggin was an idea Garver expressed about working with the Department of Education for adding more STEM lessons into curriculums that feature NASA research.
"I did not have a strong education in STEM from elementary school through high school and I think that would be a great asset for the future NASA workforce - to have more STEM exposure at all levels," she said.
Garver and the students and new employees exchanged ideas and developed the framework from which together they hope to inspire the next generation of scientists and help NASA reach for even loftier research goals.