NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory was buzzing with discussions of electromagnets, rover wheel traction and solar cells, but the presenters were not JPL scientists or engineers. Instead, Los Angeles area students presented and displayed their science fair projects during JPL's Student Showcase on Saturday, June 12.
About 175 students, their parents and mentors were the guests for JPL's kickoff of a NASA-wide pilot program called the Summer of Innovation. The program will utilize the summer as a time to build interest and gain knowledge in science and math, and will focus particularly on engaging students who are underrepresented, underserved and underperforming in these subjects.
At the kickoff, an astronaut and scientists, engineers and educators from NASA centers around the country talked to students about their science projects. "I am really amazed at the quality of work from these young people," said JPL geophysicist Maggi Glasscoe. "I did science projects like this in high school, but not at this caliber."
Students, families and mentors also participated in career panel discussions and toured JPL's robotic labs.
The summer pilot program will partner NASA centers with summer schools as well as non-traditional educational venues such as museums, camps and science centers. Each NASA center will reach out to at least 1,000 students and their teachers. The NASA program is part of the federal government's "Educate to Innovate" campaign for excellence in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Parvin Kassaie, JPL Education Office manager, noted that JPL will leverage its existing programs as well as develop new partnerships to reach students in need. The Education Office will provide a series of training modules and lesson plans for partnering organizations. The training modules consist of 10 hours of NASA and JPL content. Modules and plans are customized according to students' needs, and JPL provides training for teachers and other educators.
"These materials provided by JPL are unique, inspirational and authentic, in the sense that they allow the students to do -- at their level -- what a NASA or JPL scientist or engineer would do," Kassaie added. "For educators, there are ways of combining science and math learning with summer activities that can be so engaging, sometimes even unforgettable for their students."
For one educational partner at the JPL kickoff, the summer program reinforces fun activities and practical knowledge for students. "With events like this, students get to interact with real scientists and engineers," said Stella Olivera, Director of Education for LA's Best afterschool program. "It also helps children think about the future and whether this is what they want to do for work."
For more information about the Summer of Innovation, go to www.nasa.gov/soi