NASA’s Network of States Program Launches in Orangeburg

Photo of NASA Network of States at OCtech
Dr. Kimberly Brush, right, education specialist at NASA Langley, shows local educators the “Engineer a Satellite” activity box and how it can be used in the classroom to teach students about satellites.

Area schools are about to get a STEM boost thanks to a NASA initiative that kicked off April 16-17 at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College.

Network of States – a collaboration among the nation’s 10 NASA centers to build regional networks for educator professional development – brings together school districts that serve populations underrepresented in STEM, higher education institutions, informal education organizations, government and industry in an effort to provide more opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics for middle school students.

“The real objective is to help bring the community together in support of the schools,” said Dr. Kimberly Brush, education specialist at NASA Langley. “There are so many resources in our communities, but it’s not an easy connection between those resources and the local school districts. The question is how can we build a network that supports the schools and the teachers so that they’re getting the resources they need to teach their students and the access they need to the workforce so that they can better understand the environment they’re preparing their students for?”

South Carolina is the third state in NASA Langley’s five-state region to introduce Network of States, Brush said. Efforts are already underway in North Carolina and Kentucky. Orangeburg was selected to pilot the program in S.C. because the area is rich in resources that can be used strategically to benefit local schools, she said.

“NASA has access to resources that are outside the local community that can be integrated into what’s available within the community,” Brush said. “That’s part of the goal – to bring professional development to communities with NASA resources. We can bring information about grants from organizations NASA works with that have funding which goes unused every year because no one applies for it because they are unaware of it. We’re trying to bridge some of those gaps.”

The kickoff included sessions with Orangeburg, Calhoun and Bamberg county public school administrators and classroom teachers. Attendees shared what they saw as strengths and challenges in STEM education in their respective districts, and what opportunities there are to introducing students to those vital subjects in the classroom. The information they shared will be used to develop a professional development session for fifth- through eighth-grade teachers presented by NASA Langley this summer at OCtech.

Representatives from the South Carolina State Museum were on hand to discuss programming they have in place to support educators and students statewide. Jodi Zeis from S²TEM Centers SC and Lower Savannah Regional Career Specialist Marilyn Pickering also shared information on some of their programs. Sample projects that help students grasp STEM concepts were on display for attendees to interact with and possibly replicate in the classroom. Each project included a sheet explaining how the activity aligns with national standards.

“We’ve really been focusing on who should be at the table, what are the needs from the academia side, what are the needs of the businesses and industries?” Brush said. “Community and technical colleges are such a key component to what we’re doing. They know what the local needs are more than most, and so we tend to start with them because we can find a champion there who is already championing the same issues we are facing.”

That champion at OCtech has been Linda Payne, special projects and grants developer at the college.

“It’s crucial to stimulate middle school students and give them an idea of what the possibilities are,” she said. “This will provide them with a strong background so that they can continue taking STEM coursework in high school through Early College courses at OCtech or another institution.”

Payne said Network of States serves as a launching pad for more grade-specific content in engineering, mathematics and more.

“All of that plays into giving those kids a real feeling for why it’s so important to think about pursuing math and science degrees when considering long-range career plans,” she said.

The goal is to arm teachers and districts with the tools needed to bridge gaps between what kids are learning in school and the careers awaiting them in the workforce.

“When I was a teacher, I did not get to go out and experience the workforce the way that I wish I could have,” Brush said. “This gives teachers the chance to see some of those things – like an engineering lab or manufacturing facility – and get a sense of the types of work students can go into and should prepare for.”