NASA Engages in Educating the Next Generation of Scientists

NASA recently awarded Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE) $1.4 million to implement NASA LIFTOFF, a high school education program designed to help under-represented minority students develop "hands-on" experience in science, technology and engineering by working with NASA scientists and university science faculty.

"Closing the achievement gap among our under-represented students requires rigorous programs and services that provides professional development for our teachers and engages students in creative ways to learn," said Sheila Jordan, Alameda County superintendent of schools. "NASA LIFTOFF specifically targets schools to increase knowledge of and interest in science, technology and engineering among low-income and under-represented minority students. One of our roles at ACOE is to provide career and higher education pathways that prepare students to participate in careers in science, technology and engineering.”

LIFTOFF, an acronym for "Learning Inspires Fundamental Transformation by Opening Future Frontiers," addresses our country's need for future scientists and engineers. As part of the program, teachers and students participate in NASA mission research, including lunar exploration, and Earth and space sciences. They are given the opportunity to conduct research, network with other high school students and teachers throughout California, and be mentored by NASA scientists and university science faculty. Participating NASA centers are Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena. Participating education institutions are California State University East Bay (CSUEB), Hayward, San Jose State University, San Jose, CalPoly Pomona, Pomona and the University of California Chancellor's Office, Berkeley.

Professor Jeffery Seitz, chair of CSUEB’s Department of Earth and Environmental Science, and three CSUEB colleagues – chemistry professor Danika LeDuc, physics professor Jason Singley, and biology professor Caron Inouye – will collaborate with ACOE on the project.

"With fewer and fewer students in California and the United States pursuing the sciences our nation now ranks near the bottom compared to other countries," said Seitz. "To turn the tide, my colleagues and I will use NASA mission data and research, while collaborating with the agency’s top scientists, to train about 25 science teachers from participating Alameda County high schools to make science more relevant and fun for students."

Money from the two-year NASA grant will help transform science teaching at a dozen of the county’s high schools. While providing an excellent opportunity for teachers and students to engage in the most current, cutting edge NASA research, the program also will benefit future science teachers within the 23-campus California State University system from the best practices in science and education.

“This innovative project is at the very frontiers of science and technology,” said CSUEB President Mo Qayoumi, who has committed the university to becoming one of the CSU’s pre-eminent campuses in the teaching of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. “(The LIFTOFF grant) builds upon our successful partnerships with NASA and the Alameda County Office of Education to advance teaching and learning of science in our secondary schools."

Future jobs in California will depend on a population that is trained in science, engineering and mathematics. “My hope is that we can capture the imagination of more students who would then consider science as a career option,” Seitz said. “Projected career opportunities are going to be in the areas of biotechnology, environmental science and green technology.”

Rachelle DiStefano, director of professional development for ACOE, is the grant's principal investigator. Jeffrey Seitz and Bill Conrad, ACOE’s County Assessment Coordinator, are co-investigators. The four CSUEB professors will be the only participants from CSU during the grant’s pilot program during the first year. The LIFTOFF program will be expanded during its second year to include faculty from San Jose State and Cal Poly Pomona.

For additional information about NASA's education programs, visit:

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