New NASA program funds universities to boost high school students’ interest in STEM

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is awarding more than $4 million to four institutions across the United States to spark interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects among college students. middle and high schools that are traditionally underserved and underrepresented in field STEM.

The new Space Grant K-12 Inclusiveness and Diversity in STEM (SG KIDS) program is intended to help students understand that they can thrive in STEM subjects, building their confidence that they can successfully pursue degrees and STEM careers.

SG KIDS is a pilot program funded by NASA’s National Space Grant and Fellowship Project. Space Grant is a national network of colleges and universities working with affiliated organizations and institutions to expand opportunities for students to participate in NASA aeronautics and space initiatives. In fiscal year 2021, Space Grant awarded $44.5 million in grants to institutions from the 52 space grant consortia located in each of the 50 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico.

The grants will enable recipients to create regional STEM engagement projects for students not only in their home states, but also for students residing in other states.

“Through Space Grant KIDS, we have asked National Space Grant consortia to deploy educational activities across states to share the excitement of NASA and STEM with students who otherwise might not have this opportunity,” said Mike Kincaid, NASA associate administrator for the Office of STEM Engagement, which administers NASA’s space grant. “We look forward to seeing how these regional partnerships will make a lasting difference for the Artemis generation.”

SG KIDS is also a response to a 2021 White House executive order on promoting racial equity and supporting underserved communities through the federal government. Additionally, it responds to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson’s focus on expanding STEM opportunities for K-12 students.

According to NASA’s press release, “Projects funded through SG KIDS will provide students with hands-on experiences and lessons that bring NASA missions to life, provide training and resources for educators who teach these students and stimulate the STEM ecosystem in these regions.”

Each of the following four grant recipients will receive approximately $1,050,000 to bring their proposals to fruition over the next three years.

Old Dominion University Research Foundation, Norfolk, Virginia

The NASA Plant the Moon Challenge Space Grant will give students hands-on experience in planetary science as they design experiments to grow plants in simulated lunar soil.

Partners include the Space Grant Consortia of Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, and Puerto Rico, as well as the Institute of Competitive Science.

Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta

The Inspiring the Next Generation of NASA through Build, Code, and Machine Learning Missions (NASA ML-Bots) will provide middle and high school students in Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and Tennessee with first-hand experience of machine learning and artificial intelligence as they design and maneuver a robotic rover through an obstacle course .

Partners include the Alabama Space Grant Consortium; University of Tennessee Chattanooga; Morehouse College and the University Center of Atlanta; Mercer University in Macon, Georgia; and the Hines Family Foundation.

Ohio Aerospace Institute, Cleveland

The Stepping Stars: A Space Grants STEM Engagement Project for Multi-State Middle and High Schools will introduce middle and high school students to the concepts of biomimicry, an approach that aims to take natural selection solutions that have evolved in nature and translate them into human engineering principles and applications

Partners include Space Grant Consortia of Ohio, New York, and Nebraska, as well as Akron Zoo, Girl Scouts of Northeast Ohio, Ithaca Sciencenter, Nebraska Department of Education and Nebraska’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

University of Texas at Austin

Space Teams Labs: Engage, Inspire and Train a Diverse and Inclusive Future STEM Workforce will immerse students in high fidelity interactive space mission activities using virtual reality technology. The project aims to supply and install hardware and software for at least 50 Space Team Labs in schools, museums, youth centers, universities and other locations in Texas, New Mexico and Louisiana.

The SG Kids program was also highlighted by the White House on Friday as part of the second call for the National Space Council meeting with Vice President Harris.

Ryan H. Bowman