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NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden Walks Down Memory Lane . . . and Finds a Bright Future
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden standing with students participating in a Summer of Innovation rocket activity

Administrator Charlie Bolden joins Columbia, S.C., students as they countdown for their rocket launches. Image Credit: NASA

NASA Administrator Bolden standing with students looking up and a person pointing to the ski above

Bolden, a former four-time shuttle astronaut, tells students STEM studies could help them become a rocket scientist or astronaut. Image Credit: Columbia Challenger Center

NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., kicked off its 2012 Summer of Innovation season Monday with two special events for students in Columbia, S.C. On hand to help get the students excited about science, technology, engineering and math -- or STEM -- was none other than the NASA administrator and Columbia native, Charlie Bolden.

Bolden not only returned to his hometown, but also his alma mater, W.A. Perry Middle School, for the celebration. He addressed a group of more than 100 middle school students and encouraged them to work hard and reach for their dreams. He also shared with them the exciting opportunities that a future career in STEM could provide. The middle school students of today could very well be part of the first human mission to Mars in a couple of decades.

“Summer of Innovation is a program that we started at NASA about three years ago, and it’s aimed at you -- middle school students and your teachers,” said Bolden to the audience at W.A. Perry. “We want to try to help you understand the critical importance of science, math, engineering and technology.”

The administrator then joined the enthusiastic students in hands-on activities based on actual NASA programs and missions, like the International Space Station. Their curiosity and enthusiasm were evident during the activities. Studies have shown that when learning is fun and engaging for students, they grasp concepts more easily and are more likely to retain what they have learned.

Bolden also visited the nearby Columbia Challenger Center to join another group of students and teachers who were gathered to celebrate the start of summer with some fun STEM learning. The Challenger Learning Centers were established in the late 1980s after the space shuttle Challenger accident. Cheryl McNair, widow of Challenger astronaut Ron McNair, also was on hand for the Summer of Innovation events in Columbia. Bolden often has noted that it was Ron McNair who inspired him to apply for the astronauts corps.

Bolden ended the day by sharing these thoughts with the SoI students: “I want to leave you with three things - study really hard, listen to your teachers and ask them questions. Be willing to take chances and risks. If you get it wrong the first time, it really doesn’t matter. What counts is whether or not you reach your goal. And for some of us — like me — it takes multiple attempts at it.”

The Summer of Innovation project is NASA’s response to a national need for improvement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, education. It is designed to improve the skills and enhance the engagement of American students in STEM and build a robust pipeline of talent that carry out the agency’s future missions.

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Ann Marie Trotta/NASA Headquarters