NASA astronaut Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger recently spoke with students visiting the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery in Colorado.
During this unique videoconference, Dottie excited students by sharing her experiences flying aboard a space shuttle to the International Space Station. As students eagerly asked questions about working and living in space, she encouraged them to take advantage of educational opportunities.
"I believe it is important to share and make real connections between what NASA is doing in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields and today's youth," said Metcalf-Lindenburger.
Dottie is considered a hometown hero, having graduated from Fort Collins High School. The former teacher-turned-astronaut was very gracious and excited to inspire local students to always chase their dreams. Judging from the overwhelmingly, positive student responses, her mission was accomplished.
Ten-year-old Griffin of Fort Collins said, "My dream is to be a scientist and do space research so this was awesome. I would like to work on radiation shields so we can go to Mars." Griffin continued, "I can't believe a real astronaut answered my questions. She told me that they use water as a shield for radiation. I am going to read about that and tell my friends at school."
"Students are dreaming about what they will do in the future, and their future will be packed with the need to understand STEM concepts and be a part of STEM careers," said Metcalf-Lindenburger. "I want them to be inspired and to see themselves as a part of NASA's exploration."
When asked by an elementary-age student what inspired her to be an astronaut, Dottie's response brought loud cheers from the crowd. "My dream started exactly where you are today, in Fort Collins, visiting the local planetarium and learning all that I could about NASA and space exploration."
She reminisced how, when she was their age, her parents took her to local museums where she learned all about the space shuttle program, the first woman in space (Sally Ride) and the accomplishments of the Voyager mission.
Dottie's passion for education may have also been instilled by her parents, both of whom are teachers. After graduating college, Dottie taught science for five years at Hudson Bay High School in Vancouver, Wash., before applying and being accepted into the 2004 astronaut class. Her spaceflight experience includes a 15-day mission aboard space shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station as a member of the STS-131 crew. The mission was the longest flight for the Discovery space shuttle, allowing her to log more than 362 hours in space.
The Digital Learning Network studio at NASA's Johnson Space Center graciously agreed to provide the technology needed to connect Metcalf-Lindenburger to the Colorado students.
"The museum is gratified to show our young visitors a role model as impactful as astronaut Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger," said Annette Geiselman, Executive Director for FCMOD. "I am quite certain that her interaction with the children lit a spark that will foster another future astronaut from our community."
Treloar Bower, director of education for the museum, helped coordinate the event of nearly 100 participants. Invited guests included students and parents, as well as museum board members, significant museum donors and media representatives. Ms. Bower welcomed a chance to make real-world connections for their student audience.
"As we encourage the youth of our community to pursue careers in science, astronaut Metcalf-Lindenburger is someone we can point to for inspiration. She is proof that dreams can be made reality," said Bower. "For NASA to provide us the opportunity to connect our community with her is of extraordinary value to us."
The impact of providing such an inspirational connection between a NASA astronaut and students was summed up by one heart-warming anecdote. "After the event, two children were in tears. When asked (by staff) what was wrong, the parents said their kids were just overwhelmed to have seen a real astronaut today," said Bower.
If increasing student excitement and interest in STEM education was the goal, the future for these kids looks great.
"I loved talking to a real astronaut today. I was so glad that she answered my questions about asteroids," said 11-year-old Jackson, of Fort Collins. "I would love to learn more about our universe. Thank you, NASA."
To learn more about the Digital Learning Network, please visit http://www.nasa.gov/offices/education/programs/national/dln/index.html.
Christopher Blair: Johnson Space Center Education Office