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Finding Future STEM Professionals at CIAA
02.27.12
 
By: Amy Johnson

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For the seventh year, NASA brought exhibits, educators and motivators to the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association's (CIAA) basketball tournament.

NASA's presence during the tournament, ­which involves the oldest historically African-American athletic conference in the nation, gives the agency the opportunity to reach and educate a wide and diverse audience.

Almost 2,000 Charlotte middle school students attended the NASA-sponsored Education Day at the Charlotte Convention Center.

The event was organized to get them thinking about college and about possible careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

"There is a shortage of future STEM professionals, and we want to encourage these students, and at this age level, make them aware of some of those opportunities," said Roger Hathaway, director of education at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

In addition to hands-on exhibits, students heard from motivational speaker Calvin Mackie and NASCAR driver Ryan Gifford.

Student at CIAA.
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Thousands of middle school students attended the seventh annual NASA Education Day during the CIAA tournament. Students heard from speakers and visited NASA exhibits. Credit: NASA

Teachers at CIAA.
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About 300 educators attended NASA’s three-day teacher workshop in Charlotte. Here, teachers work together to build prototypes of robotic hands out of paper. Credit: NASA

Mackie kept the students attention with his own story of going from being a cocky basketball player who wouldn't listen to anyone to becoming a successful businessman with a doctorate in mechanical engineering.

He connected with the students, who when prompted, would finish sentences for him.

"Charlotte, we're here today because NASA wants you to be in the know," Mackie said. "We're here today to let you know that 80 percent of the jobs in the future are going to be in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math."

To further interest students, Gifford ­ who was the first African-American driver in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East history to win a pole position ­ explained how NASA-developed technology plays a role in NASCAR.

"Everything that NASA does relates directly to our sport," Gifford said.

From tires to the drivers' fire suits to the engineering and aerodynamics of the racecars, students learned that being a part of NASA can be pretty cool.

Mackie and Gifford urged the students to be serious about their education.

"If you work the next four years like you never worked before, I promise you that you will get to live the life you never dreamed," Mackie said.

"The work you put into school right now is either going to make your life a lot easier or a lot harder," Gifford said.

Not far from where thousands of students were being inspired, about 300 teachers worked closely with NASA aerospace educators on ways to make learning about STEM fun and exciting. They also learned how to incorporate NASA resources into their teaching.

Teachers from North Carolina, South Carolina and even from as far away as Texas and Colorado came to the three-day workshop held at Cochrane Collegiate Academy.

About 90 professional workshop sessions allowed educators to explore a variety of learning activities such as: Introduction to Robots, Engineering Design Challenges, Lava Layering, My Big Book of Space and Playing Around with NASA, among others.

Teachers worked with everyday materials to build a mini roller coaster, robotic hand prototypes and other space structures. They also learned about Apollo and pretended to "orbit" and "fly-over" strange planets made out of foam.

Elyssa Corin, an educator from the Moorehead Planetarium and Science Center, taught "Robotic Solar System Odysseys."

Corin said the workshops are a great way for teachers to get "rejuvenated."

"I find that so many teachers have a love for space and exploration and these workshops offers a great opportunity for them to discuss best practices and to collaborate on ways to better interact with their students," she said.

South Carolina elementary school teacher Melissa Masters learned how to build a rocket and launch it, an activity she looks forward to sharing with her students.

She also got some personal satisfaction out of the experience.

"I loved the rockets," she said. "And mine flew the farthest."


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