NASA selects local organization to engage learners in its mission
NASA’s Teams Engaging Affiliated Museums and Informal Institutions (TEAM II) has selected three informal education organizations this year by awarding grant funding to promote STEM learning and inspire the next generation of explorers; among them is Graham, Texas-based Vivify, LLC.
Vivify is a small business devoted to providing quality resources for educators in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through curriculum development and support. Vivify was founded in 2014 by Graham, Texas resident and former Air Tractor engineer Claire Meschkat and College Station resident and Communities in Schools STEM Project Director, Natasha Wilkerson. Claire and Natasha were college classmates and roommates at Texas A&M University where they both graduated with degrees in Aerospace Engineering. Their passion for working with children and sharing their engineering knowledge led them to start a company helping educators in their STEM programs. Vivify has provided STEM lessons for educators, businesses and professional development worldwide.
The NASA TEAM II projects were selected from 43 proposals through a peer-reviewed process and will be implemented over the next three years. The value of each project is approximately $750,000, but the impact this program will make on youth throughout the nation is priceless. Vivify’s STEM engagement project, entitled “New Worlds Await You: National STEM Challenges for Student Space Exploration,” targets at-risk middle school students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades. These students will be immersed in a national network of afterschool enrichment programs using space exploration themed activities. This project will be supported by engineers, scientists and professionals from Southwest Research Institute and the WEX Foundation in San Antonio, in collaboration with NASA personnel and other collaborating organizations.
“Vivify is excited to be a part of this project to provide a highly engaging STEM program to youth across the country,” says Claire Meschkat. “There is a great need for quality STEM programs to adequately educate the next generation. Our world depends on advancements in engineering, application of scientific knowledge, and skills in technology and manufacturing. We hope to provide avenues for students to learn about and prepare for the ever-growing employment opportunities in these areas.”
Students involved in the New Worlds program will experience Vivify’s “Launchpad” curriculum that launches students into the world of STEM. Led by a fictional astronaut, Alex. Launchpad transforms students into a team of astronauts on a space adventure. Students work in teams to launch rockets, land on another planet, collect data, conduct experiments and solve problems. Vivify’s curriculum engages youth with an exciting storyline while promoting science and engineering careers with real-world connections.
Once completing Launchpad, students will have a foundation of STEM skills that will prepare them for more rigorous STEM pathways. Through New Worlds, schools implementing Launchpad will be invited to participate in a national “Space City” competition managed by Future City. This annual competition that involves 40,000 students in all 50 states asks middle-school students to imagine, design and build a space city of the future with the theme of “Living on the Moon.” Competition materials will be developed in part by Vivify who will partner with NASA Johnson Space Center to incorporate real NASA technologies and current events. The competition will include designing a computer model of a city on the moon, followed by researching, designing and building a scale model of a space city. Students will compete in 40 regional competitions with a Finals Competition held in Washington, DC during Engineers Week.
Through the grant, Vivify is excited to partner with NASA Johnson Space Center to integrate real space technologies into the Launchpad curriculum. The New Worlds program will also connect NASA engineers and scientists as mentors to guide students through the curriculum.
Students in the New Worlds program are recruited from the Communities In Schools (CIS) national network, active in 25 states serving at-risk students in over 363 schools. CIS students are a vulnerable population with a high risk of dropping out of school, and these students do not have access to quality STEM education.
“How can we expect students to achieve what they can’t see?” Says Natasha Wilkerson, co-founder of Vivify and STEM Director of Communities In Schools of San Antonio. “Through Launchpad, students learn about aerospace engineering, biology, meteorology, mechanical engineering, and other exciting careers most have never heard of. They start to connect math and science subjects to an electrifying world of STEM that they could be a part of.”