Saturday, March 27, 2010

NASA Launches Students into Orbit

In a 20-foot vertical spin tunnel at the NASA Langley Research Center, aerospace technologist Steve Riddick tests free-flying models of fighter aircraft, transport vehicles and capsule vehicles to see how they perform under different conditions.

“It’s one of the better places to give a tour because there’s a lot of visual stimulation with that tunnel,” Riddick said. “You get to actually see something going on, as opposed to some computer collecting data.”

And that’s what STEM is all about. As the United States focuses more on these academic subjects, NASA is on a mission to engage students, educators and families in STEM fields, as well as to strengthen the future workforce of the organization and the nation.

Almost half of NASA’s current workforce consists of baby boomers, and by the end of fiscal year 2010, more than 20 percent of the organization’s workers will be eligible to retire, according to a 2008 presentation by Toni Dawsey, assistant administrator for human capital management at NASA.

The company is now hiring more people from Generation Y to replace retirees. Over the next two fiscal years, NASA projects that it will hire 373 workers in aerospace engineering and 430 in general engineering, specifically with an emphasis on increasing the number of aerospace project managers and systems engineers.

In the past 15 years, new types of positions have emerged in information technology and in automation and robotics, while employment levels in numerous existing positions have increased, Dawsey said.

NASA provides students and educators with a number of ways to learn about STEM careers, including summer research opportunities, team competitions, internships and cooperative education programs.

STEMtech Promotes Interactive Learning

The League for Innovation's annual Conference on Information Technology (CIT) is transitioning into a new conference envisioned as an interactive learning experience with a strong focus on:

  • science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines in general education and workforce training; and
  • uses of technology across the institution.

“Excitement is building about the new STEMtech conference,” said League Board Chair Jackson Sasser, president of Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla. “STEMtech provides an opportunity for community college technology specialists, CIOs and other educators who use technology to continue gathering around topics of specific interest to them, while acknowledging the growing importance of STEM disciplines in community college education.”

STEMtech will be available to participants in two formats: on site and online. The 2010 on-site conference will be held Oct. 31-Nov. 3 at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Online activities will be available Nov. 1-2 and will include live streaming of general sessions, track keynotes and special sessions, as well as several webinars.

“Providing an online option was at the forefront of planning and developing the format for STEMtech,” said League President and CEO Gerardo E. de los Santos. “Those who would like to participate and contribute to an international conference but are unable to do so because of distance or budget constraints will now be able to share and learn through the online option.”

STEMtech conference tracks include five in the STEM areas:

  1. Health and Science;
  2. Energy, Environment, and Sustainability;
  3. Mathematics, Engineering, and Architecture;
  4. Manufacturing, Industry, and Agriculture; and
  5. Technology and Communication

Two tracks will also be offered in institutional technology;

  1. Technology Systems and Applications; and
  2. eLearning Resources

Grant Attracts Minorities to STEM Fields

The University of Texas at El Paso has received a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for nearly $2.9 million.

The “Science for a Sustainable Future: Developing the Next Generation of Diverse Scientists” award will provide fellowships to minority graduate students in NSF-supported disciplines such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The doctoral students will build their science and teaching portfolios and bring their leading research findings into K-12 learning settings in an effort to inspire the next generation of scientists.

The fellows will serve as a STEM resource for El Paso’s Early College High School (ECHS) science teachers and as mentors for the students, helping them build practical understandings of science.

“This success in securing federal funding from the National Science Foundation is a good example of the quality of competitive proposals UTEP faculty generate, integrating education and research benefiting our students and consistent with UTEP’s mission,” said Roberto Osegueda, vice president of research and sponsored projects.

A recruitment effort for beginning doctoral students is under way for the program, called NSF Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education. Aaron Velasco, Ph.D., chair of geological sciences; Vanessa Lougheed, Ph.D., assistant professor in biological sciences; and William Robertson, Ph.D., associate dean of the College of Education are the faculty leaders who are recruiting incoming doctoral students for the program.

The fellows will help develop ECHS’s science curriculum around the theme “Science for a Sustainable Future,” with a particular focus on the arid Southwest. Specific challenges facing our border desert populations will be addressed:

  • Limited water resources in a changing climate
  • The potential for alternative energy resources
  • A rapidly growing, diverse population and environmental health issues in a multi-national community
  • Geological hazards facing the region

“The idea is to give these students real exposure to the scientific challenges of the region and hopefully inspire them to go into STEM fields,” Velasco said.

The ECHS, recently established in El Paso, brings an innovative approach to high school education by reaching out to young people currently underrepresented in higher education, enabling them to earn up to two years of college credit in addition to their high school diploma, and providing them with the skills to increase their success in college.

One of the goals of this new grant is to complement the current partnership between UTEP and the ECHS and to help facilitate the transition to a four-year university.

The NSF grant complements other training efforts at UTEP and serves to enhance the role of one of the top three Hispanic degree-granting universities in the U.S. as an emerging hub of research and training activities involving the next generation of Hispanic scientists and engineers.

With its growing Ph.D. programs, top faculty, and current demographic, UTEP is poised to lead the way for training minority Ph.D. future scientists and leaders.

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