Live conversation with students and astronauts aboard the International Space Station, 24 April 2014
Updated: Nov 27, 2021
1. I hope that this message finds you well. On 24 April 2014, while I served as the president of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) outreach club at the United States Air Force Academy, a 437-cadet-strong organization, I helped to conduct a school visit to Jack Swigert Aerospace Academy, a title one school (Jack Swigert Academy is located in an economically disadvantaged region of southern Colorado Springs and hosts an 80% minority student body of whom 90% are enrolled in a free or reduced lunch program), where students were able to ask questions live to astronauts aboard the International Space Station (if interested, you may read more about the Air Force Academy’s STEM outreach program here).
2. After the uplink question-and-answer session, students participated in hands-on science and engineering activities with Air Force Academy cadets for the remainder of the school day. Similar opportunities were provided to students at the Atlas Preparatory School on 11 November 2013, Evans Elementary School on 22 February 2013, and Huerta-Chavez Academy on 12 November 2012. Our motivation for engaging the community was singular: we enjoyed inspiring local students to see a future for themselves as scientists and engineers that they may not have seen otherwise.
3. Between the fall of 2011 and the summer of 2015 a team of twenty cadets and I would often wake up before dawn on Saturday mornings, get dressed in our flight suits, and step into the crisp Colorado air. We would load the 125 pound oxygen canister of the hybrid rocket from the astronautics department or the $80,000 explosive ordinance disposal robot from the mechanical engineering department into the civil engineering van, and other cadets would gather chemistry experiments, balsa wood glider kits, and other hands-on engineering activities from other academic departments.
4. Thereafter we would drive to an elementary school classroom (such as at the Jack Swigert Aerospace Academy) or a nearby science fair in order to conduct demonstrations for the youth of Colorado.
5. These efforts culminated in the conferral of a nationally competitive award in May of 2015 at the Anaheim, California, convention center recognizing our mission to inspire students toward pursuing a career in a Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics related field: a significant metric for national success as outlined by our nation’s leadership.
6. The Air Force Academy Dean of Faculty accompanied the contingent of six cadets to the convention center in California, and he spoke with me shortly after the awards ceremony about why young students might be intimidated by a technical course of study. He commended our efforts but he also challenged me as we were not making a systemic impact around the country.
7. The Dean asked what I could do to help all students believe in a future that they may not originally considered themselves capable of achieving. This is a question that I have committed my career toward answering.
8. The development of hope in others has been the most challenging aspect of my nascent career and as well as by far the most rewarding. As a member of the United States Senate from the State of California I will strive to create educational opportunities such that each student of the United States may contribute toward the success of America at his or her fullest ability. Thank you for reading this story and please have a good day.