NASA administrator Michael Griffin said in testimony before Congress early this month that his agency is reformulating its outreach efforts to college students to prepare a new generation to explore space.
Griffin cited poor math and science test scores and the inability to produce an abundance of science majors as factors in deciding to form new ideas for outreach.
“We are, as a nation, facing a crisis clear and documented in our ability to entice young people to embark on technical careers, science, mathematics, engineering, all branches of those,” said Griffin in his Nov. 4 testimony.
According to a panel discussion conducted in October by the National Academies, the nation’s leading science advisory group, American 12th graders performed below the international average for 21 countries on the general knowledge of math and science and China’s engineer graduates outnumbered America’s engineer graduates by almost 9 to 1 in 2005.
NASA is concerned that the United States is falling behind.
“In many cases, in our graduate institutions, foreign enrollment surpasses domestic enrollment. And the problem is that they go back home, they don’t stay here,” said Griffin.
NASA is making valid efforts to expand their outreach to those majoring in the sciences.
“The Office of Education is strengthening involvement with higher education institutions to ensure that NASA can meet future workforce needs in science, technology, engineering, and math fields,” said Brad Weiner, director of higher education at NASA.
The agency is currently developing a number of different programs aimed to draw college students into the science world.
Its current developing project is the Science and Technology Scholarship Program, which will provide scholarship and internship opportunities to undergrads pursuing math and science-based degrees. The program would offer the competing students a $20,000 scholarship in return for a promise to work for NASA upon graduation.
NASA is also offering internship opportunities through its various departments.
The NASA Cooperative Education Program is designed to combine academic studies with on-the-job training, allowing students to gain experience working at a NASA Field Center while completing their college degrees.
NASA also has a regular intern program as well as a summer work program called ACCESS that allows students with disabilities majoring in math or science to receive training experience.
NASA is also developing outreach programs for minority students.
“Regarding the development of in-house capability for our scientific and engineering staff, I welcome with open arms efforts to engage Hispanic or historically black colleges and universities, as I do all of our colleges and universities,” said Griffin.
The agency has created various programs for minority students including NASA Scholars, a program that consists of fellowship programs at 14 minority-serving institutions; NOMISS, a program designed to encourage minority students to engage in learning about culture and its relevance to space sciences; and the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers science program that gives internships to Hispanic students pursuing science careers.
By encouraging students to pursue degrees in science and math, NASA hopes the scholarships and job opportunities will boost American space research and exploration.
“As NASA moves forward in its quest to explore Mars and beyond, it’s important for us to energize and excite the next generation about the possibilities,” NASA’s director of education Angela Phillips said to students in Idaho.
This article appeared in the November 17, 2005 issue of the Hatchet.