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Voyage Back to School Celebrates a Summer of Innovation
Leland Melvin high fives a student

NASA Associate Administrator for Education Leland Melvin high fives a Summer of Innovation participant at Voyage Back to School. Image Credit: NASA
Students sitting on the floor listen to astronaut Bill McArthur talk

Students listen to astronaut Bill McArthur talk about life and work in space during the event that celebrated a successful Summer of Innovation. Image Credit: NASA

Hundreds of students from Texas and New Mexico filled Johnson Space Center’s visitor complex, Space Center Houston, to build and launch air rockets, glide mock space shuttles to safe landings, and meet NASA Associate Administrator for Education, Leland Melvin. The festivities were part of Voyage Back to School, the end note to the 2011 Summer of Innovation, or SoI, activities facilitated by Johnson Space Center’s education office that provided an extended summer STEM-focused learning initiative for schools and community-based organizations that comprise traditionally underrepresented students.

Throughout the summer, JSC collaborated with eight institutions in the greater Houston region to bring NASA’s unique STEM-focused educational curricula to more than 100 kindergarten through twelfth grade educators and 1,500 middle school students. SoI, launched by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in 2010, is the agency’s answer to a national need to improve STEM-based education and inspire more students to pursue careers that will enable them to explore new frontiers and solve the next generation’s global challenges.

The initiative focuses on learning during June, July and August to limit “summer slide,” the loss of academic skills over the course of the summer. This is a problem that disproportionately affects low-income students and contributes to an achievement gap between richer and poorer students. NASA scientists and engineers connected with students via webcasts, teleconferencing and podcasts to engage them in hands-on activities and show real life examples of science and technology in action that some may not typically get in the classroom.

Many SoI student participants were among the visitors during Voyage Back to School. They showed off summer projects, heard astronaut Bill McArthur as he detailed his journeys into space as part of three space shuttle missions and an expedition aboard the International Space Station, and took part in “Fit Explorer” activities that give students a look into what it takes to be an astronaut. Associate Administrator and former astronaut Melvin told students about the doors that can open for students who study and excel at science and mathematics. Participants also got a chance to check out NASA’s new “Destination Station” traveling exhibit that shares the scientific discovery happening aboard the International Space Station and shows how astronauts live and work in space. The event was not only designed to cap a stimulating summer, but to excite students about the new school year.

This summer’s participants included those affiliated with Galena Park Independent School District, Galveston Independent School District, Clear Creek Independent School District, Krueger School of Applied Technologies, Houston Works USA, the Dr. Ronald E. McNair Education Science Literacy Foundation, New Mexico STEM Outreach Center and Gadsen Independent School District in New Mexico.

Rachel Kraft/Communications & Public Affairs Office