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An Educational ECHO, 'FIRST' Heard by NASA
the ECHO Team and event participants The ECHO Team and event participants gather for a group photo at the Goddard Visitor Center. Credit: NASA
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FIRST group photo ECHO Team members (from left to right): Stacey Brock-Watkins, Michelle Gordon, Marcello Rodriguez, Rebecca Powell, Monica Allen. Credit: NASA
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Take five NASA employees, add a year-long leadership program, thirty enthusiastic children, homemade rockets, moon buggies, video games, and six hours on a Saturday. What is the result? A cool one-day program to inspire future generations of NASA scientists and engineers!

The NASA employees, all participants in the agency’s Foundations of Influence, Relationships, Success and Teamwork (FIRST) leadership program, developed the Encouraging Change by Helping Others (ECHO) program as a class project.

The ECHO program, inspired by the White House Council for Women and Girls Initiative, was designed to provide a day-long event with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related activities in a fun environment to a group of people not previously targeted by NASA’s wide-ranging educational and outreach program.

The five employees, Monica Allen, Stacey Brock-Watkins, Michelle Gordon, Rebecca Powell and Marcello Rodriguez, sought to find the appropriate group to host for this event. Allen, Gordon and Rodriguez all work at NASA Goddard. Brock-Watkins comes from NASA Headquarters in Washington, and Powell works at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va.

Rodriguez had previously volunteered with Hope and a Home, a non-profit organization the D.C. metro area that assists low-income families in securing transitional housing, as well as placing an emphasis on educational achievement for both the students and adults. The team decided that Hope and a Home would be a perfect fit.

"Hope and a Home’s dedication to fight poverty through goodwill and extreme focus on education on all levels -- for both children and adults -- fell directly in line with our efforts to educate and reach out to an underserved sector of the community," said Rodriguez, an aerospace engineer.

The ECHO group spent several months planning every detail of the special event, which would be held at the Goddard Space Flight Center. The classmates consulted a wide variety of sources at Goddard, including the Office of Education, Office of Communication and the Visitor Center, to develop appropriate activities to engage the students with NASA’s missions.

When the time arrived to implement the months of planning, the team was ready. On a beautiful fall Saturday, nearly thirty students and their parents from Hope and a Home arrived at the Goddard's Visitor Center ready for a day packed with fun.

"The kids were beyond excited to be spending a day at NASA. They were all smiles and full of questions as they anxiously waited in line to get their name tags and start the day," said Michelle Gordon, a NASA resource analyst.

The ECHO group divided the participants into age groups, ranging from three years old to adults. Each age group had customized activities that were designed to excite them about space and NASA missions. The activities included building moon buggies, designing rockets, hearing NASA employees talk about their missions, touring facilities, and even playing moon video games.

"It was an amazing day. This event helped a community of people care more deeply about our Earth and universe," said Grace Dickerson, Hope and a Home’s Director of Education.

"I believe the ECHO event was a success because it sparked excitement for STEM in a fun and engaging way and provided a rich and rewarding opportunity for NASA to further interact with the community in an inspirational way," said Stacey Brock-Watkins, a NASA facilities manager.

The ECHO team says they hope the participants look back on this day with excitement and remain enthusiastic about the event and what they learned.

"The staff from Hope and a Home reported back to us that the excitement carried on even after the day was over. They received calls from parents saying that the kids could not stop talking about what they had learned and built that day," said Gordon.

The ECHO team plans to help arrange events like this into NASA’s lineup of outreach and education collaboration.

"NASA doesn't do what we do for just a small sector but to ultimately benefit everyone in some manner. With that being said, there is a sector of our community that had not been afforded the opportunity to experience the great things that NASA has to offer and I believe if we have the ability to reach them we should," said Monica Allen, a NASA contracting officer.

The ECHO team says the event was a success, but not due to any work that they’ve done.

"The event didn’t represent a single person, code or NASA center. They left appreciating what NASA did for them," said Allen.
Rebecca Powell
NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Is., Va.