Special to the Register
Eastern Kentucky University, Kentucky Educational Television and NASA are helping to make a dream come true for a select group of Kentucky middle schoolers.
Five Madison County middle school students will have an opportunity Friday to speak to an astronaut aboard the International Space Station.
They are among 160 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, all identified as gifted and talented in science and/or mathematics, from 46 area schools who will participate in a variety of educational activities at the daylong event in EKU’s Hummel Planetarium and adjacent Perkins Building.
The five Madison County students were selected, based on their submitted questions and a short essay, to be among 23 students who will talk with astronaut Tom Marshburn.
The local students are Maria Hoover and Tristan Fitzpatrick, B. Michael Caudill Middle School; Bryden Allen, Clark Moores Middle School; and Sam House and Virginia Deaver, Berea Independent.
EKU, partnering with KET, was selected by NASA as one of only six downlink sites nationwide where students will be able to converse with the space station astronauts. The theme for the event, which runs from 9:15 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., is “From the Bluegrass to the Blue Marble: Systems in Space.”
Other participating students, as well as students in classrooms throughout the state, will be able to tune into a live stream of the event via KET, which will broadcast the downlink event live from 9:40 a.m. to 10:05 a.m. and online at www.ket.org/live.
KET will tie its live broadcast into News Quiz, its current events program for grades 4 through 8, and title it “News Quiz Special: A Space Station Conversation.” At 9:40 a.m., five minutes before the downlink starts, News Quiz host Missy Johnston will give the audience a brief introduction of what they are about to see, along with some information about astronaut Marshburn.
EKU established a STEM-H Institute in 2011 with three goals in mind: to support and expand partnerships between the university and K-20 schools and communities, advance the public understanding of the needs and opportunities in STEM-H disciplines (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and health), and increase learning opportunities and levels of achievement for K-20 students in the STEM-H disciplines.
“This project allows us to fulfill all three goals,” said Dr. Jaleh Rezaie, associate dean of graduate education and research and interim executive director of the institute.
“We are focusing on the middle school students since research has shown that this age group is the most vulnerable. This is the time they decide about their educational interests. Often it is the time they lose interest in math and science. What excites me is the opportunity to inspire and excite the students and teachers about mathematics, science and technology.”
Each participating school was assigned a team of EKU mentors (faculty, students and staff) to assist with event-related projects. During the downlink day, faculty will judge the students’ team projects and lead discussions.
Becky Kamas, education specialist with NASA, said EKU and KET “have an excellent plan for involving students in STEM activities before and after the downlink, and will engage many, many students in the state.”
In addition to providing technical support to help facilitate the downlink, KET will significantly extend the reach and excitement of this event by bringing it to classrooms throughout Kentucky. KET will make the downlink session available for viewing anytime through its online resources for teachers and students and will produce related digital learning resources.
“We look forward to partnering with EKU and NASA to bring this exciting event to students across the state,” said KET Executive Director Shae Hopkins. “Space exploration continues to inspire young minds and kindle an interest in science and technology. This will be an incredible opportunity for Kentucky students to learn directly from those astronauts conducting the latest pioneering studies.”
Kamas said: “Downlinks are designed to encourage students to study and pursue careers in STEM fields. It’s our hope that this unique experience will light the fire that will get students heading in that direction.”
Earlier this year, NASA’s Aerospace Education Services Project selected the EKU Department of Curriculum and Instruction to participate in a newly created alliance designed to provide professional development for educators. The goal of the alliance is to improve education in STEM disciplines through collaborations that identify and serve appropriate audiences, providing them with sustained access to NASA resources and assets.
Dr. Dorie Combs, curriculum and instruction chair, assisted in organizing related projects and activities and has worked closely with the participating schools and teachers.