DePaul University in Chicago has been chosen by NASA to serve as one of five regional brokers to foster partnerships between educators and scientists. The university will receive $610,000 over three years to establish the DePaul Space Science Education and Outreach Center, which will identify the needs of educators, museums and the general public, and match institutions with scientists for educational and outreach initiatives.
"This program represents NASA's attempt to take a different approach to establishing partnerships between space scientists and educators," said Carolyn Narasimhan, director of the space center and associate dean of DePaul's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Jeffrey Rosendhal, Office of Space Science (OSS) Assistant Associate Administrator for Education and Outreach, said OSS's approach is part of an overall NASA commitment to "dramatically improve mathematics education and scientific and technological literacy in the United States."
DePaul University is one of five broker/facilitator sites chosen to work with NASA. Others are the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston; Ohio Aerospace Institute in Cleveland; Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.; and a group of space grant colleges and universities in the southeast, headed by the South Carolina Space Grant Consortium located at the College of Charleston.
One of the major areas of interest for DePaul will be to help develop educational programs directed towards under-served and under-utilized groups. This role is closely tied to the university's mission, which calls for increasing access to higher education for the disadvantaged. DePaul has worked on several programs designed to open up the science and math fields to inner-city students, thus helping to create a pipeline of successful candidates for advanced degrees in technical fields.
According to Narasimhan, many educational institutions and schools are aware that NASA has available materials and resources. However, they do not always know how to use NASA's resources effectively. That's where DePaul can assist. "Teachers have access to curriculum and materials, but they lack help in developing long term plans," said Narasimhan.
She envisions that 25 percent of the center's activity will involve working with research scientists who are developing educational components to include in their research grant applications or mission plans. The center's larger role will be to facilitate the creation or expansion of educational pipelines as it sees fit. This will include, for example, planning workshops for scientists to make them aware of opportunities for partnering with teachers and educators in nationally endorsed science education efforts. The alliance with NASA is also designed to strengthen the general public's knowledge of space science.
"People have always been intrigued by space exploration and the search for life in other areas," said Narasimhan, "and NASA can capitalize on this interest." She expects to work with institutions such as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and the Adler Planetarium in Chicago to bring greater awareness of NASA's science-rich, technology-intensive missions to the region.
"There is a vacuum in the Midwest when it comes to an understanding of NASA programs," said Narasimhan. "We will help to change that. I think there is a role for scientists in education at all levels and we intend to facilitate that connection."