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Center Snapshot: Tiffany Hunter
Tiffany Hunter. Image above: Since the summer of 2010, Tiffany Hunter has been getting students interested in STEM (Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics) education through the NASA Langley Aerospace Research Summer Scholars Program (LARSS) Program. Photo credit: NASA/Sean Smith

By: Denise Lineberry

Tiffany Hunter's internship at NASA's Langley Research Center began last summer, much like those of hundreds of summer students who entered the gates for the first time earlier this week.

She learned about her program, the Langley Aerospace Research Summer Scholars (LARSS). She met other students who were new to the center. She met her mentor, Dollie McCown.

Hunter's ability to innovate was kicked into high gear.

Shortly after her arrival, the program she supports, the Summer of Innovation (SoI), began at the Virginia Air and Space Center.

Summer of Innovation is a NASA initiative to encourage learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in support of President Obama's "Educate to Innovate" Campaign. NASA's goal is to increase the number of future scientists, mathematicians and engineers, with an emphasis on broadening the participation of underrepresented and underserved students.

"Children have a special place in my heart, and I want nothing more than to provide them with the opportunity to succeed in life," Hunter said.

Hunter stayed busy, traveling throughout a five-state region to reach students as a program facilitator. But she also made a local impact.

At the Six House in Hampton, a nonprofit community outreach organization, students learned about the components of an airplane through SoI, and then they took part in an "Airplane Engineering Challenge."

"Are we using paper airplanes?" a student asked Hunter.

"Yes, we are using paper airplanes. But maybe you can build a real one one day," she replied as the student's eyes grew wider.

She made that type of impact throughout her first summer at Langley, which led her to apply again for LARSS in the fall. And then again in the spring.

"Most of all I enjoy the look on a child’s face when they have accomplished their goal. Knowing that I was able to educate an individual and stimulate their interest in STEM is rewarding to me," Hunter said. "I enjoy the fact that I am able to make contact with large groups of students. I visit many of them on a regular basis, and I am able to continuously mentor them."

Hunter has returned this summer to support SoI and also to work with INSPIRE (the Interdisciplinary National Science Project Incorporating Research and Education Experience), a multi-tier, year-round program designed for high school students who are interested in STEM education and careers.

And she demonstrates how educators can mentor students through Train-the-Trainer workshops.

"Before coming to NASA Langley, the only experience that I had was classroom instruction (largely as a student). My mentor provided me with hands-on experience, workshops and field opportunities," Hunter said. "We engaged the youth in stimulating activities to pique their interest and prepare them for future workforce."

Her student experience has led her desire to be more involved with the youth at her church. According to Hunter, her family and her faith give her an edge on life.

She enjoys attending football games, always paying special attention to the half-time show, because she was a member of the Sound of Silver marching band at William Henry Shaw High School in Columbus, Ga., where she grew up.

She doesn't like to stay put. She likes to run and she loves to travel.

"My grandmother always said, 'You don't let grass grow underneath your feet,' " Hunter said. "At least once a month I dedicate time to travel outside of Hampton and explore new things."

She is focused on finishing grad school at Hampton University (HU), where she studies secondary education with a concentration in biology.

"I want to ensure that I am a well-equipped vessel, so that I can profess knowledge to the students," she said.

Though Hunter is more commonly referred to as a student through her studies and her internship, those who have witnessed her work know her as a teacher and a mentor.

And her desire to innovate knows no season.

The Researcher News
NASA Langley Research Center
Editor & Curator: Denise Lineberry
Managing Editor: Jim Hodges
Executive Editor & Responsible NASA Official: Rob Wyman