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College Students Learn How to Find Their Place in Space


Nilufar Ramji |
May 15, 2019

The next generation of explorers are in classrooms right now learning the necessary skills and expertise to make their contribution to the future workforce. As NASA moves forward to the Moon, this time to stay, the needs are widespread and cover several areas of study within, and outside, STEM fields. NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement (OSTEM) aims to inspire, excite and engage educators and students through its mission to explore ongoing scientific discoveries and new engineering achievements. 

On April 29 at NASA Headquarters in Washington, students participated in a unique learning experience — The Future of Space. This event was in partnership with the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics, Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) and NASA’s National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program. Students in the Washington area and across the country heard from a NASA powerhouse panel that included NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, Associate Administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate William Gerstenmaier and Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Steven Clarke. The conversation was moderated by NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, who kicked off the conversation with, “It is our hope and intent that you will find your place in space.”  

Exploration is in our DNA — the desire to discover and inhabit distant worlds, whether across Earthly oceans or vast regions of space. Students who are currently getting ready to join the workforce need to understand how they can join NASA’s mission, and were excited to partake in the discussion. 

“The event is the first step of many to streamline the relationship between NASA and university students that will help shuttle our generation to space,” said Olivia Scharfman, a student representing SEDS. 

In addition to the panelists, who were able to shed light on the scientific and technological advancements required for exploration, students were able to ask questions of NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch, who are currently aboard the International Space Station. From their unique vantage 250 miles above Earth’s surface, both enjoyed speaking to students and answering their questions. 

“It’s a great day to spend a few minutes out of our day reaching out to the next generation, who are going to keep this mission going forward,” Hague said. 

Throughout the show, students also heard from some early-career individuals who started as NASA interns and are currently making their mark at the agency. Not only did students travel to NASA Headquarters to participate in person, across the country, more than 30 watch parties spanning over 20 states also gave students the opportunity to ask questions using #askNASA. 

“This was an incredible opportunity to learn from NASA leadership who are contributing to our presence in space — there’s plenty of space for all,” said Morgan Kainu, a SEDS student from Dallas who truly appreciated the insight from the NASA community. Kainu was also one of the students who used a crowdsourcing campaign to get to Washington to participate in person. 

OSTEM’s goals include building a highly qualified future STEM workforce bolstered with the technical skills needed to advance NASA’s mission, creating opportunities for students to contribute directly to NASA’s work and strengthening students’ understanding of NASA’s work by providing powerful connections to the agency’s missions. 

Another student, Ian Burrell, felt very informed after the event. “It is important that NASA, as a whole, is taking an interest in young people. NASA truly understands the importance of having a young, capable workforce.”

With the agency’s current direction of going forward to the Moon, NASA aims to engage college students in its mission. Building on the agency’s successes in low-Earth orbit, NASA is combining the expertise of its workforce with commercial and international partners to develop the exploration capabilities needed to establish a permanent presence on the Moon and, eventually, go on to Mars.

Administrator Bridenstine closed the show with a challenge for students. “NASA is 60 years old. We have a long way to go. The question is, who is going to be the first person on Mars? Those are opportunities in your future,” he said. “Know this: The future is very bright, [and] you have lots of opportunities. We want to engage you in those opportunities.”

From left, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Steven Clarke engage with students in the James Webb Auditorium at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Image Credit: NASA

From left, moderator Tracy Caldwell Dyson engages with Jim Bridenstine, William Gerstenmaier and Steven Clarke. Image Credit: NASA
From left, moderator Tracy Caldwell Dyson engages with Jim Bridenstine, William Gerstenmaier and Steven Clarke. Image Credit: NASA
Caldwell Dyson, a NASA astronaut, continues the Future of Space conversation with students after the event. Image Credit: NASA
Caldwell Dyson, a NASA astronaut, continues the Future of Space conversation with students after the event. Image Credit: NASA