STEMtoSpace was designed to facilitate virtual connections between Space Force Guardians and K-12 classrooms to share the importance of STEM careers related to space as well as how the Space Force contributes to national security and daily life all across America and the world.
More than 300 Space Force volunteers participated in STEMtoSpace engagements last year, reaching close to 184,000 students across all 50 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, South Korea, Japan, Belgium, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Italy.
This year, nearly 700 STEMtoSpace engagements are planned, including more than 90 in California and 86 in Colorado, said Nicole Palmer, director of SSC’s Space STEM Outreach Program. Space Force events are planned for 46 states and also include events in Germany, Guam, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom.
During the classroom visits, students have an opportunity to engage in a variety of STEM activities, depending on grade level. Students in grades 3 – 6 for example, might make a “cloud in a bottle,” creating the conditions required to form a cloud or build a flying model of a rocket. Students in grades 5-8 may create a model of a comet or design a thermal protection system for a spacecraft.
At Clarence Ruth Elementary School in Lompoc, Calif., Space Force Maj. (Retired) Kurt Ponsor met with 62 third-graders on Dec. 16. He said he was impressed with some of the questions from the students, which included everything from “”Did someone come talk to your classroom when you were a kid?” to “What would happen if the planet stopped rotating?”
Wendy Culver, a 3rd grade teacher at the school, said Ponsor’s presentation was “engaging and enthusiastic and illuminated how an interest in the field of astronomy could lead to a fascinating and rewarding career,”
“We very much appreciated getting to learn about the world of satellites and the current frontier of space discovery directly from the source,” Culver said. “The students are excited to continue their studies of our solar system when they return from break. We are scheduled to have an astronomy night with our local astronomy club bringing their telescopes.”
But the focus on STEM doesn’t just end in December. Palmer, along with Jonathan Stroud, a developmental engineer and deputy director for SSC’s Space STEM Outreach Program were recently awarded the 2022 Department of Defense Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (SMART) Phase 2 Scholar & Mentor of the Year Award for their exemplary contributions to STEM advocacy at SSC.
The pair collaborated with non-profit organizations such as the STEM Coalition to develop and lead the SSC Space STEM Outreach Program. The program served more than 10,700 students in 31 underserved schools in the Los Angeles and Vandenberg areas, with grade-specific lessons that align with the Next Generation Science and Math standards while promoting STEM careers to youth. In addition to school visits by SSC Guardians, students and their teachers can also visit the SSC Heritage Museum at the Los Angeles Air Force Base, in-person or through a virtual tours.
“It’s been great,” Palmer said. “So many schools ask for us to come back. We received a thank-you note from a first or second-grader who said, ‘Please come back before June when I finish school.’”
“It’s rewarding for us,” Palmer added. “A lot of teachers will tell us, “are you sure you want a two-hour timespan with the kindergarten class?’ but we seldom have any problems keeping their attention.”
Palmer said the SSC volunteers have been impressed in turn with the kinds of questions the students ask them, and how knowledgeable they are about space, science and technology. One first grade student not only knew what a payload was, he knew the payload was inside the fairing.
“This generation has had technology in their hands practically from the moment they were born,” Palmer said. “I think they’re interested in science and technology because that is how the world works, and society is no longer pushing the idea that STEM is a field only for men.”
“The students are very curious, even at a young age, about how they can shape their future, and if this is something they’re interested in, how they can continue on that path,” Palmer said. “Some of the kids say, ‘I want to be an engineer,’ and they’re only in second grade.”
One of the Guardians volunteering for the effort is Capt. Issac B. Chung, SSC Intelligence Analyst. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Chung says STEM volunteering is a way for him to give back to the community.
“It’s important for Guardians to reach out and participate in these events for a multitude of reasons,” Chung said. “Guardians and the Space Force are still very unknown to the public or are often times confused with science fiction, and these visits help people better understand our role in national security.”
“As a child of immigrant parents, I had no guidance on careers growing up,” Chung added. “Education was emphasized to me as the fastest and only way to bridge poverty to success. I was blind to the possibilities and the sheer diversity in careers out there. Now that I am working, I want to provide some of these concrete examples, either in the military or in civilian industry.”
“I believe STEM is a way to actualize your dreams,” Chung added. “When I hear kids talk about their projects or endeavors in sandbox games like Minecraft or Roblox, I encourage them to entertain the idea of making those projects come to life through engineering or coding.”
The SpacetoSTEM schedule of events is fully booked. However, SSC will continue to offer STEM programs throughout the school year, Palmer said. Interested teachers can send an email to SSC.STEM@spaceforce.mil.