Fresno State is helping children in grades K-12 build robots on land and underwater. They can also put their piloting skills to the test in flight simulations. And they can learn about planets and space travel in the University’s Space Lab.
Parents can participate too — learning how to use a tablet to fly a small drone.
Fresno State is one of nine universities nationwide working with underserved and underrepresented children to build interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) through NASA’s Aerospace Academy program.
Nearly 4,000 K-12 students have been through the academy at Fresno State since the program began three years ago. Another 1,500 students are slated to suit up this year thanks to another round of funding from NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Program. Grant recipients will receive up to $325,000 over the next two years to support its programs.
“We have been funded again to continue the good work that we’re doing,” said Dr. Steve Price, director of Community Based Learning, which runs the academy, in the Kremen School of Education and Human Development. “We commit to do two things: develop and implement a curriculum with kids in K-12 throughout the year that relates to STEM programs and are based on NASA-themed activities. Secondly, to promote the education of pre-service teachers in the STEM field.”
The program recruits pre-service teachers — juniors and seniors planning to teach — and other Fresno State undergraduates from STEM fields as instructors in the academy. Thirty-five were hired over the summer, Price said.
Fresno State partners with the California Teaching Fellows Foundation and Fresno County Superintendent of Schools to provide STEM enrichment in after-school programs during the school year. Each participating school receives a large banner declaring it a NASA Aerospace Academy site.
On Saturdays, the program holds classes, through the Youth Technology Institute, teaching robotics, engineering design, 3D printing and video production to children in first through eighth grades. During the summer, the program holds space camp for about 120 migrant and foster students introducing STEM concepts to many for the first time, including their parents.
“Every year we learn something new and we just enhance the program,” said Kasey Vang, program director. “That’s the exciting part, seeing the growth in our pre-service teachers and seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces.”