Eastern Kentucky University (EKU), Kentucky Educational Television (KET) and NASA helped to make a dream come true for some Bell County gifted and talented students.
Five area middle school students had the opportunity on Jan. 11 to participate in a live downlink with an astronaut aboard the International Space Station. They were among 160 sixth- , seventh- and eighth-graders, all identified as gifted and talented in science and/or mathematics, from 46 southeastern Kentucky schools who participated in a variety of educational activities at the day-long event in EKU’s Hummel Planetarium and adjacent Perkins Building.
EKU, partnering with KET, was selected by NASA as one of only six downlink sites nationwide where students were able to converse with the space station astronauts.
“What a once in a lifetime opportunity for our students. These students already demonstrate a high aptitude in the areas of math and science and with a real world experience like this, it could really broaden their views of possible future careers,” stated Barbara Taylor-Warren, gifted and talented coordinator for the district.
Two students from Yellow Creek School Center, Ethan Warren and Tyler Reese participated.
“We mark this as a special day to remember at Yellow Creek School Center. Tyler and Ethan’s preparation and participation in this event may be a catalyst that changes their goals and aspirations. Hopefully, these young men now see that even the moon is possible”, remarked Jerry Lawson, Principal Yellow Creek School Center.
Tyler Reese advised, “This was a once in a lifetime experience and I really enjoyed it!” Ethan Warren added, “It was great! Participating in this once in a lifetime event can give me many opportunities in life.”
Three students from Bell Central School Center also participated. “This opportunity was a thrilling experience,” added Caleb Brock.
“I enjoyed being able to talk to an astronaut in space,” said Mikey Long, sixth-grader. “It was a cool experience.”
“The EKU Planetarium was an awesome place to view the Downlink with the astronaut,” stated Ethan Brock. Greg Wilson, Bell Central Principal, said that this was a great opportunity for our students. “It is a once in a lifetime experience and our students were thrilled to be able to be a part of it,” said Wilson.
EKU established a STEM-H Institute in 2011 with three goals in mind: 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.”
“Downlinks are designed to encourage students to study and pursue careers in STEM fields. It’s our hope that this unique experience will light the fire that will get students heading in that direction,” said Becky Kamas, education specialist with NASA.
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.