Local 4-H students had an opportunity to grow their imagination and potential at NASA's Stennis Space Center when NASA Associate Administrator for Education Leland Melvin took time to visit with them on July 30.
Approximately 80 students in grades 4 through 9 from several south Mississippi counties participated in the event. Their visit to Stennis capped their clubs' involvement in NASA's Summer of Innovation project, which provides hands-on learning opportunities for middle school students and educators through NASA-unique science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) educational activities during the summer school break. Summer of Innovation is a key component of the agency's broader education program to increase student interest in STEM courses, particularly among students in underserved sectors of the academic community. Mississippi 4-H is Stennis' largest Summer of Innovation partner this year.
Melvin told the visiting students about his experiences as an NFL player, scientist and astronaut, urging them to discover and pursue their own dreams. He emphasized the importance of education, explaining it is key to turning dreams into reality.
"I saw this 7-year-old future astronaut who is beginning to dream and is inspired to follow that dream," Melvin said following his comments. "It's just inspiring to me to see that next generation of explorers who will grow to advance our civilization."
The 4-H'ers' celebratory end-of-summer visit also included a round of activities hosted by the Stennis Office of Education – magnetic levitation cars, stomp rockets, and biospheres – designed to reinforce fun and practical applications of their STEM learning experiences.
"We are so pleased Mr. Melvin chose to spend time with this group," said Emma Seiler, coordinator for Stennis' Summer of Innovation activities. "NASA has so much to offer children in the way of inspiration, and Mr. Melvin certainly serves as a great example of what you can do if you dream big and work hard."
Melvin joined NASA in 1989 as an aerospace research engineer at the agency's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. He joined the astronaut corps in 1998 and has served as a mission specialist on two space shuttle missions: STS-122 in 2008 and STS-129 in 2009. He has logged more than 565 hours in space. In 2003, Melvin co-managed the former Educator Astronaut Program, which recruited teachers to become fully-trained astronauts in an effort to connect space exploration with students across the country.
Melvin earned a bachelor of science in chemistry from the University of Richmond, where he also excelled as a wide receiver for the Spiders' football team. He was drafted into the National Football League by the Detroit Lions in 1986 and also spent time with the Dallas Cowboys and the Toronto Argonauts. After injuries sidelined his football career, he returned to academia and earned his master's degree in materials science engineering from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
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