NASA Space Science Day comes to USU

Jose Hernandez grew up in California. Born to migrant workers from Mexico, Hernandez was the only member of his family to be born in the United States. He learned English when he was 12 years old and went on to earn a master’s degree in engineering and train as an astronaut for NASA. In August 2009, Hernandez went into orbit in the space shuttle Discovery. NASA Representative Charles Galindo said, “If a young child from Utah hears that story and they’re in that same situation (as Hernandez was), well what is that going to do? It’s going to make them believe that they can also do it.” The story of Hernandez’s journey has inspired middle school students in Texas and California. Now NASA is coming to USU to share the story with local children and get them excited about math and science. In Cache Valley, 300 students grades 5-7 will get an opportunity to learn from USU students they can relate to during NASA Space Science Day (NSSD), hosted by NASA and USU’s chapter of Society of Hispanic Engineers (SHPE-USU). The event will take place March 19 at USU’s engineering building and USU students will participate in organizing and carrying out the event. NSSD coordinators hope the event will spark students’ interest in science, technology and math. The event is aimed at middle school-aged students because that is a time when many students fear or lose interest in those kinds of subjects subjects. Another benefit of NSSD is getting young students on a college campus. When kids come to campus, they realize it’s not such a scary or daunting place, Galindo said. “That’s something that stifles our ability to learn, is fear,” he said. College students who participate also receive benefits, such as leadership and organization skills, and the event isn’t open to just engineering students. Aggies from across every USU college are invited to participate. NASA representatives came to USU last weekend to train about 30 USU students and 15 local teachers in preparation for NSSD. The college students and teachers will guide the young students in projects relating to subjects like math, chemistry and geology. On March 19, registration will begin at 8 a.m., a keynote speaker will begin at 9 a.m. and then the 5-7 graders will participate in guided activities from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The students will be separated into small groups, rotating between the 7 planned activities every 45 minutes. Since 2004, NASA has been creating events for the community at the University of Texas in Brownsville. Recently they decided to take the program nationwide, creating a NSSD program at one university per year. For the first year of the national campaign – which began last year – NASA went to Hernandez’s home town of Stockton, California. The next universities will be chosen from an application process. Members of SHPE-USU submitted an application and program proposal to NASA and were selected to host the first NSSD program from the application process. Yolanda Flores Niemann, USU vice provost, said USU students have “an incredibly strong work ethic” coupled with a strong belief in community engagement and service which makes the university a good match for the NASA program. Omar Castillo, president of SHPE-USU, said he hopes to make NSSD an annual event at USU. NASA representatives come to USU the first year to help organize the event and get the wheels rolling, and then it’s up to the university to continue it annually if they wish. NASA has a website which explains several activities NSSD coordinators can use over the years. If event coordinators need help in the future, they can go to NASA representatives. While turning NSSD into an annual event at USU is optimal, Galindo said that will ultimately depend on funding. NASA will help fund these programs in their infancy, but that funding might not always be available as budgets change and USU might have to look for other grants and sources of funding. Eliot Cuduco, SHPE-USU public relations, invited any USU students to get involved in NSSD. He said the event has need for a variety of majors and skill sets and not just engineers. – rachel@cvdaily.com

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