As contractors on the NASA Quest Team, we shared the of the work of NASA scientists, and engineers with classrooms to encourage students to pursue these careers. We told stories about the projects they worked on, introducing the team members through brief biographies and pictures, emailing journals updating the progress on projects, and allowing students to chat with these experts in chat rooms. We also web cast live events using prerecorded video and sometimes, live broadcasts.
Just ask someone, “Where were you during the first lunar landing?” and you’ll gain insight into the emotional impact of NASA events. We, humans, are hardwired to want to tell and listen to stories. Using the interactive tool of the Internet, thanks to Al Gore*, we set about sharing the stories of NASA scientists and engineers.
The student participants seemed enthusiastic and I imagine it was more fun than their traditional classroom activity. The “proof of concept,” in terms of the goal of producing the next generation of NASA scientists and engineers, will be hard to produce.
We heard from frustrated aerospace engineers (even back in the 90’s) that NASA jobs were highly competitive and we might mislead students indicating that there would be opportunities in the future, when in fact NASA was experiencing budget cut backs. Participating engineers sometimes said that they knew they could make more money in high tech jobs.
Still, I cherish the feedback from a teacher whose students were watching the web cast of a model of the Wright Flyer being lifted into the National Full Scale Aeronautics Complex wind tunnel at NASA Ames when he saw a new fascination showing on their faces.
Did stories help you choose your career? Tell me about it.
*As a member of Congress, Al Gore sponsored the Information Infrastructure and Technology and Applications program encouraging Federal agencies to pioneer use of the Internet. NASA used some of this money for education.