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NASA and UNT partner to encourage STEM careers in children

NASA and UNT partner to encourage STEM careers in children

UNT News Courtesy

NASA and UNT partner to encourage STEM careers in children
November 30
18:45 2016

The US Congress funded NASA’s five-year initiative to promote interest in learning of space science and encourage young students to pursue careers in the STEM field.

NASA’s Heliophysics Education Consortium partnered with UNT’s Institute for the Integration of Technology into Teaching and Learning will set up programs to further this goal.

Professor Gerald Knezek and his student team are investing their time in a research project to find ways to educate younger generations on the importance of the STEM field for future space travel and to advance climate change research and prevention.

“The argument is no longer whether climate change was caused by humans or by nature,” Knezek said. “The argument is what we’re going to do to ensure our survival.”

Knezek has been researching to figure out how to gauge young, middle school aged students’ interests in the STEM field. He uses a “career interest questionnaire” and a “STEM semantics survey” to figure out where these students land in their interest. The results are based on the scaling methods he uses.

“I think this is exciting research,” TAMS student Bihan Jiang said. “We have the opportunity to apply what we’re learning.”

Jiang, one of the students on Knezek’s team, has been analyzing the data Knezek’s surveys has gathered. Through her research, a trend she has seen is that before the students are exposed to scientific technology they generally aren’t impressed. But once the team gets hands-on experience through technology-infused activities, the students gain interest.

“It’s good that we introduce these concepts to young kids,” said TAMS student Anna Ko. “We keep gathering data that shows there is potential.”

Ko, another student participating in data analysis, notices that young students are generally enthusiastic about scientific innovation. In fact, studies have begun to show that young girls are more likely to feel driven to make a difference when it comes to solving environmental problems.

However, there’s an overall trend that goes against the favor of mathematics. She said this lack of mathematic enthusiasm could have an effect on the STEM field, but that’s what the project is trying to combat.

“This research is important because the graphs show room for opportunity,” TAMS student Andy Wu said. “We’re working on analyzing this data to figure out what NASA’s initiatives should be in the future.”

Wu said he’s excited to be a part of Knezek’s team because he’s optimistic about the impact their research can make for future generations. He has been involved in 2-D and 3-D printing to help design UV protective glasses for the total eclipse in August 2017. The process he’s using to develop these glasses will be used during seminars and camps to allow children to design their own protective glasses to use during the eclipse. These kinds of projects are what Knezek’s team are looking forward to.

“Next summer, we’re hoping to host a seminar at the Dallas Arboretum that will make children aware of how space weather affects our weather,” said graduate research assistant Samson Den Lepcha. “As a Ph.D. student, I’m glad to have an opportunity to not just have the classrooms and textbooks to learn from, but also applying my research in this project.”

Den Lepcha oversees the work of the TAMS students and helps them. The hands-on opportunity of working with local schools and students is something he appreciates. He’s also looking into pursuing connections with indigenous communities and testing the potential there. Based on the historical connotation of indigenous people’s belief of taking care of the Earth, he’s hoping that those communities will feel encouraged to contribute to environmental initiatives, the end goal encouraging them to pursue STEM careers.

“One day, our research will go to Congress so they can vote on initiatives to encourage STEM in schools,” Knezek said. “We need to find where the motivation is so we can further our goal of going to Mars or surviving climate change.”

Featured Image: UNT courtesy

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Bina Perino

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