07:27 AM

Counting Down to UHD/NASA Conversation with Astronaut Joe Acaba


It began as an exchange of ideas on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) stretching from the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) to the International Space Station (ISS).

Soon, the gap between UHD and the ISS will be narrowed a bit as NASA astronaut Joe Acaba will share his thoughts on teaching and other subjects during a cosmic conversation with students.

At 9 a.m. on Feb. 13, the University will host an ISS In-Flight Education Downlink in its Welcome Center's Tour Room. From space, Acaba will interact with UHD students and answer questions via satellite transmission. Faculty, staff, students, and alumni are invited to this event. UHD is the only Texas institution to host an ISS Downlink this year.

"UHD is honored to have been selected as the sole Texas institution to host a Downlink event in 2018," said Dr. Juan Sánchez Muñoz, UHD President, who is a longtime friend of Acaba's. "It will be a historic moment for our University and a most memorable one for the professors and students involved. I thank NASA and Joe Acaba for their time and energy in helping develop our Urban Education students' skills as STEM educators and sharing invaluable insights with our faculty members."

The dialogue is the culmination of a project launched during the fall 2017 semester. Urban Education students in UHD's College of Public Service learned how to be effective STEM educators with the support of NASA's Office of Education and veteran teacher Acaba.

Through UHD's Science Methods course, students learned to teach STEM topics by developing classroom experiments. They also had representatives from NASA's Office of Education serve as guest lecturers and visited Johnson Space Center.

UHD Urban Education students (or preservice teachers) were led by Urban Education faculty members Dr. Franklin Allaire, assistant professor of science education, and adjunct lecturers Xandra Williams-Earlie and Dr. Celesin Ntemgwa.

The UHD-NASA partnership is part of the space agency's STEM on Station initiative, connecting classrooms with astronauts and educators aboard the ISS.

"STEM on Station is very inspirational," Allaire said. "Many students dream of going into space or participating in the process, but they don't know how to get involved. This collaboration provides an avenue for them to participate with NASA and its astronauts. It's definitely something for their resumes … and the opportunity of a lifetime."

In November, Acaba sent a video of himself to the students from aboard the ISS. In the footage, he is conducting experiments aboard the station. These included creating a floating bubble from fruit punch (demonstrating how surface tension and diffusion affects fluids); spinning a clear sphere filled with Skittles (demonstrating centrifugal acceleration); and putting a fidget spinner in motion in a zero gravity setting.

"I wish you the best of luck," Acaba said in the video. "There is no profession in my opinion that is more valuable than an educator. I hope you love what you do and continue with your hard work."

In addition to the Feb. 13 ISS In-Flight Downlink, UHD and NASA will host interactive STEM events for K - 12 students in area school districts in the University's Welcome Center. Groups of area elementary, middle, and high school students will participate in workshops and breakout sessions led by UHD preservice teachers. Educational activities will take place in three stations. Station 1 is focused on life aboard the ISS; Station 2 explores the topic of radiation; and Station 3 will delve into the subject mass versus weight. A NASA-UHD Open House will accompany the STEM event and include Cosmo, an inflatable astronaut mascot; Google Expedition space station tours; examples of astronaut gear (gloves, helmets, food and other items); models of the ISS; and informational touchscreen displays.

A complete schedule of NASA-UHD events in the University's Welcome Center is as follows:

  • Feb. 9: Interactive STEM Events and NASA-UHD Open House. K- 12 students will participate in educational sessions with NASA Education team members and UHD preservice teachers. Educational events from 9 to 11 a.m. and from 1 to 3 p.m.
  • Feb. 12: NASA-UHD Open House with exhibitions and astronaut items (open to UHD faculty, staff, students and the general public). Items will be on view throughout the day.
  • Feb. 13: ISS In-Flight Downlink. UHD students will interact with astronaut Joe Acaba via satellite link. This event is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m.

"I can't think of a better opportunity to inspire future STEM educators than this collaboration with NASA and my longtime friend Joe Acaba," Muñoz said. "His experience aboard the ISS will offer new perspectives on STEM topics and no doubt spark new ideas for our students to implement in their respective classrooms."