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NASA Partners With UNO To Host 'Space Day' For Middle School Students

University of New Orleans
Approximately 150 middle school students from five area schools participated in UNO Space Day 2014, which culminated Thursday afternoon with a model rocket launch.

Seventh and eighth graders participated in the very first UNO Space Day on Thursday. The event was co-hosted by NASA, Boeing Company, the National Center for Advanced Manufacturing (NCAM), and Jacobs Technology.

The all-day event was structured around three break-out sessions designed as competitions. The students built and launched a stomp rocket, built a free-standing structure using materials like marshmallows, spaghetti and scotch tape, and simulated a docking station. The hands-on space-themed activities were designed to raise interest in the study of STEM subjects — that’s science, technology, engineering and math.

“We had a variety of things we were aiming for,” says Karen Thomas, UNO associate dean of STEM Outreach, Recruitment and Retention. “We wanted to generate an interest and passion and enthusiasm in younger kids in sciences and engineering. We were also really fortunate to have some great UNO students who we called mentors, and they teamed up with the middle school students for the day. We were hoping to show the kids that pursuing an academic future in science and engineering can be fun.”

“I think we also wanted to teach them what’s going on right now in the NASA space program,” Thomas says. “And thirdly, UNO is really trying to ramp up our outreach to the local community and local schools. My job is to try to make those connections and bring more local kids to campus, get more of our students out into the community, and forge good working relationships back and forth.”

Space Day activities culminated in a grassy field beside the Newman Center, with the students launching model rockets provided by NCAM.

“We had three kids from different schools who got to press the button and launch the rockets,” Thomas says. “And they had a good time chasing around the field to catch them as they parachuted back down.”

According to Thomas, the event was very successful and organizers hope to repeat Space Day every year.

“My metric of success is how much fun the kids had, and they all seemed to be having a really great time,” Thomas says. “ I think there was some lively and friendly competition between the schools, and a lot of excitement and a lot of cheering. If the kids are happy, I think we’ve done our job!”

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