For three days, the University of Houston-Downtown’s Welcome Center was transformed into space education headquarters. Credit the creative minds of UHD’s Urban Education students and NASA Education for developing exhibits and exercises designed to engage both the Gator community and Houston-area students. Of course, the star (floating among the stars) of the three-day extravaganza was astronaut and educator Joe Acaba, who beamed to campus via Skype from the International Space Station (ISS).
These recent events (Feb. 9 – 13) marked the culmination of a partnership between UHD’s Urban Education Program and NASA Education that began during the fall semester. Students enrolled in a Science Methods course learned how to create classroom experiments designed to stimulate students’ interests in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) topics. During the fall semester, students were visited by NASA Education representatives and participated in a news conference at Johnson Space Center with astronauts aboard the ISS. Faculty leading these students included Dr. Franklin Allaire, Xandra Williams-Earlie and Dr. Celesin Ntemgwa.
Last week’s events began with a day of interactive events for K- 12 students attending local schools on Feb. 9 in the Welcome Center. On Feb. 12, the UHD community was invited to explore educational exhibits provided by NASA (including a replica space suit, space food and artwork). The grand finale on Feb. 13 was an ISS In-Flight Downlink that connected UHD with the space station and astronaut Acaba.
From space, Acaba was broadcast into the Welcome Center’s Tour Room to speak to Urban Education students and his longtime friend UHD President, Dr. Juan Sánchez Muñoz.
“University of Houston-Downtown, I read you loud and clear,” Acaba said holding a microphone while bobbing up and down weightlessly on the Tour Room’s video screen.
Student Laverne Gilliam asked him for recommendations to get students interested in science.
“Students love science,” he said. “You can ask any child, and they’ll ask why the sky is blue or about bugs. Keep it practical and relate science to their everyday lives. If you can do that, you’ll be successful.”
Another question from Allaire focused on the experiments that Acaba and Ricky Arnold were conducting aboard the space station. These experiments originally were going to be conducted by Christa McAulliffe aboard the ill-fated Challenger mission.
“It’s exciting that we will have the opportunity to fulfill the work that Christa started,” Acaba said. “She had an impact on so many educators and students. To be part of that is a huge honor.”
The event closed with President Muñoz extending an invitation to Acaba to visit campus.
“Thanks,” responded Acaba. “I look forward to seeing you all. It was a pleasure to speak to you today. Stay with what you’re doing. There’s nothing more important than being an educator. You guys are awesome.”