Last week, eight high school teachers from school districts in different parts of the country took their next big step as part of the SETI Institute’s NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassador (AAA) program. After completing a series of in-person and web-based training modules, they traveled to Palmdale, CA for a week-long Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) immersion experience.
The teacher ambassadors received intensive professional development at NASA’s airborne science facility in Palmdale. The teachers in this group are high school science instructors selected from Northside Independent School District (ISD) (San Antonio, TX), Muscogee County School District (near Atlanta, Georgia), and Fayette County Public Schools (Lexington, Kentucky). A staff liaison from the Northside ISD district office also joined the group. Their activity-filled week was facilitated and coordinated by SETI Institute education staff members Coral Clark and Pamela Harman.
The AAAs met with NASA experts in areas including astrophysics, planetary science, and engineering experts. They gained insights to share with their students regarding the many specialties that come together to make a complex NASA mission like Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) successful. During the first part of the week, they also spent time with Hashima Hasan. Hashima wears multiple hats at NASA. She leads education initiatives at the NASA HQ Astrophysics Division, as well as being the Deputy Program Scientist for SOFIA and the James Webb Space Telescope. Hashima discussed the features and benefits of the AAA program and shared background about her career path and work at HQ. SOFIA staff led the group on tours of the SOFIA Mirror Coating Facility, Preflight Integration Facility (science instrument lab), the science aircraft hangar, and the observatory aircraft.
“The first-hand experience at the facility and contact with the subject matter experts empowers teachers with knowledge and experiences to take back to their classrooms,” said SETI Institute Director of Education Pamela Harman. Ambassador Luther Richardson (Muscogee County, Georgia) reflected, "This week has been an inspirational week and is an energy boost for any teacher, I believe!" The AAAs were amazed by the complexity of SOFIA operations, and with how pleased they will be to share with their students the spectrum of types of experts involved in the program. AAA Anne Schnabel (Northside ISD, Texas) commented that her students would see many potential career options, from managers to mechanics and everything in between.
In total, 28 ambassadors will fly during SOFIA’s science observing Cycle 7 (2019). AAA educator applications for the next Cycle (flights during 2020) will be open from October 20 through November 15, 2019. The application form is at www.seti.org/aaa-c8appl.
About the Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors Program
The Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors (AAA) program is funded by NASA HQ to measurably enhance student STEM achievement and engagement in selected school districts via professional development for high school science teachers. After their respective STEM immersion weeks, AAA participants implement in their classrooms a NASA science-oriented electromagnetic spectrum and infrared astronomy curriculum module developed by the SETI Institute AAA program staff.