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Ex-astronaut, BSU educator says exposing females to STEM is essential to our future

Boise State University has been building its science, technology, engineering and math programs to become a university known for its STEM education. They have several programs, such as E-Girls, pictured, that support young girls and women entering into STEM fields.
Boise State University has been building its science, technology, engineering and math programs to become a university known for its STEM education. They have several programs, such as E-Girls, pictured, that support young girls and women entering into STEM fields. Provided by Boise State University

Perspective is a funny thing. It bends to time and space in ways few things do. I can tell you from experience, your perspective on the world changes dramatically when you look down at it from 254 miles above the surface. Time can be just as powerful.

Years ago, long before I was exploring space with NASA, I was like countless other women searching for an outlet for my love of science and mathematics. The possibilities, we generally were told, were being a teacher, a nurse, or a dental hygienist. I became a teacher, a job I loved and career choice that eventually led me all the way to the International Space Station. Needless to say, my perspective on career opportunities for women inclined toward the science, technology, engineering and math-fields has changed considerably over the past 50 years.

I’m pleased to say Idaho is at the forefront of STEM education and opportunity, with innovative programs at the K-12 and collegiate levels that encourage and attract students of all backgrounds, including women.

Here are some recent projects by students studying science, technology, engineering and math:

▪  The IDoCode program at Boise State is part of a National Science Foundation initiative aimed at adding 10,000 well-trained computer science teachers to high schools across the U.S.

▪  Students at Jerome Middle School outside Twin Falls helped install a wind turbine as a service project, and that turbine today is generating clean wind energy and a real-world context for rich mathematics learning.

▪  A few years ago, fifth-graders at Donnelly Elementary School started what has become an annual study of nearby Boulder Creek and the creek’s ecosystem and have implemented a number of corrective measures to improve the health of the watershed and wildlife in and around it.

The common threads in all of these projects, and countless others that are sparking student interest in STEM studies and careers, are hands-on participation and commitment from our community organizations. When we provide opportunities for young people to exercise their curiosity and experience the joy and wonder of exploration, they become engaged and passionate about STEM.

Exposure is everything.

The best STEM educational programs at any level involve students identifying problems and working in real ways to solve those problems, often by working side-by-side with experts and professionals.

Our goal as a state and a nation should be to raise a generation of young people who dream of being astronauts or engineers, or computer or environmental scientists, or STEM teachers. From my perspective, we are on our way.

“Idaho’s Teacher in Space” Barbara Morgan is a retired NASA astronaut, a Boise State University Distinguished Educator-in-Residence, Emeritus, an inductee of the Idaho Technology Council’s Hall of Fame.

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