EKU 1 of 6 U.S. Sites Selected to Host Downlink Session with NASA Intl. Space Station

International Space Station photo

It will be one short bus ride and one giant leap in knowledge for some area middle school students when they visit the Eastern Kentucky University campus in January.

EKU, partnering with Kentucky Educational Television (KET), was selected by NASA as one of only six U.S. downlink sites where students will be able to converse with the astronauts aboard the International Space Station.  The theme for the Jan. 11 event is “From the Bluegrass to the Blue Marble: Systems in Space.”

In addition to the 20-minute downlink dialogue with the astronauts, the day-long event will feature a variety of related educational activities. Approximately 200 students who have been identified as gifted and talented in science and/or mathematics will be invited to the Richmond campus, all participating in activities before and after the downlink. The participants will be required to complete an application in which they include a question they would like to ask the astronauts as well as a brief justification. Up to 20 students will be selected to talk with the astronauts; however, the remaining students as well as classrooms throughout the Commonwealth will be able to tune into a live stream of the event via KET.

Last year, EKU established a STEM-H Institute 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. I’m also excited about the broad impact this project will have.”

Each participating school will be assigned a team of EKU mentors (faculty, students and staff) to assist with projects prior to Jan. 11. During the downlink day, faculty will judge the students’ team projects and lead discussions.

Becky Kamas, education specialist with NASA, said Eastern 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.”

NASA has conducted 150 downlink sessions nationally since beginning the practice with Expedition 1 in 2001. Each downlink site for Expedition 33/34 this academic year has an exclusive date. Every downlink is also broadcast live on NASA TV.

“Downlinks are designed to encourage students to study and pursue careers in STEM  fields,” Kamas said. “It’s our hope that this unique experience will light the fire that will get students heading in that direction. It’s so important to get students interested in STEM. These subjects are so critical for their future, and our future as a nation.”

Kamas called the downlink event “one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that few people get to have, and it sticks with you. We still have students and educators that stay in touch and talk about how impactful their downlink was.”

Even if the students don’t pursue a career in a STEM field, “I hope they are inspired and influenced by their experience to do something they are truly passionate about,” Kamas added.

Earlier this year, NASA’s Aerospace Education Services Project selected EKU’s 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, chair of EKU’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction, will assist in organizing projects and activities related to the downlink event and work closely with the participating schools and teachers.

Rezaie noted that EKU and KET have partnered often to meet the educational needs of Kentuckians.

“KET’s participation in the downlink and surrounding activities will strengthen existing partnerships and open up new possibilities,” Rezaie said. “Our partnership will maximize the impact of the downlink and surrounding activities in EKU’s service region and in Kentucky as a whole, as well as help both EKU and KET fulfill their educational missions.”

Published on September 07, 2012