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NASA STEM EPDC Specialists Drone Training & STEM-For-All Dell Diamond Event

Nicholas Butler I September 17, 2021

The LBJ Institute for STEM Education and Research team conducted an immersive two-day drone training initiative with six NASA STEM Engagement & Educator Professional Development Collaborative (EPDC) Specialists and approximately ten EPDC staff members September 10-11 at the Texas State University’s Round Rock campus.  LBJ Institute Director Dr. Leslie Huling states, “The professional development for our EPDC specialists and LBJ Institute staff is part of our commitment to providing a variety of educational services on emerging topics and to equip our staff to successfully deliver these services.” FAA107 training is commonly used by pilots and focused on flight safety, navigation, model operations, virtual mapping, and more. EPDC Specialists who receive FAA107 training can obtain their pilot certification to fly commercial industry drones. This will enable specialists to share extensive drone instructions with instructors and students.

NASA EPDC Specialist Dr. Deepika Sangam was interested in the drone training exercises due to their valuable educational experience. She believes drones can be utilized as tools to introduce young students to STEM concepts and careers. Sangam states, “Drones are becoming more pervasive with the advancement of technology. It is beneficial for educators to use drones in classrooms to intrigue students’ curiosity and allow them to learn more about the roles drones play in our everyday lives.” Each of the drone training exercises focused on realistic operations that could be replicated for instructional purposes. For example, an indoor drone simulation allowed participants to navigate a drone to designated markers on the floor to emulate how NASA deploys drones to gather data from specified locations on Mars.

Senior Advisor and Distinguished Professor Emeritus Dr. John Beck explains how drone technology can benefit students from grade levels k-12. Beck says, “The training exercise provided examples of classroom simulations teachers can use to teach students about drone capabilities. The instructional exercises serve as an introduction and opportunity for students who are 16 years of age or older to obtain a drone certification.” Sangam looks forward to instructors utilizing drones to continue increasing high-level engagement and STEM identity development in education. Furthermore, she believes these STEM concepts should be accessible to teachers and students throughout the United States. Sangam says, “We are actively addressing the issue of accessibility to ensure that each of our STEM programs are offered to teachers and students across the nation.” The LBJ Institute for Education and Research’s STEM-For-All partnership initiative focused on building educational programs for students, parents, and community members to engage in STEM activities that lead to STEM careers.

The STEM-For-All “Night at Dell Diamond” event was held on September 12th in conjunction with the “Kids Day/Express Baseball Game” in Round Rock, Texas, with approximately 350 students in attendance. Participants engaged in a Moon survival scenario, prioritized items for a Moon mission, and described how to optimize a packing solution for all the supplies. Grant Specialist and Operations Manager Karen Fabac describes how students and parents received the opportunity to interact with STEM concepts. Fabac says, “Each STEM activity allowed participants to experiment with technological devices such as UV sensitive beams and Google expedition glasses to view the solar system.” These STEM principles are applicable lessons that give children and adults a practical basis of STEM fields.

children using Google expeditions glasses
parents and children participant in space exploration exercise
children prioritize items in an interactive space exploration to Mars simulations
parents use Google exploration glasses
children receiving instructions for NASA Mars simulation
children learn how to optimize their packing solution for their supplies

NASA EPDC Specialist Michelle Berry feels it is important for the community to be involved with activities within the STEM field. She believes community awareness can increase children’s interest in STEM concepts. Berry states, “STEM-For-All events have a greater impact on children because there are parents, caretakers, educators, and community members involved in various STEM activities.” Although the event was hosted at the Dell Diamond, the STEM concepts were not required to possess any athletic themes. Beck says, “This event was a wonderful collaboration and community members were very supportive. We are very grateful that we were able to provide this experience at the Dell Diamond.” The Round Rock community was instrumental in promoting the STEM-For-All event and for executing a successful attendance. Berry states, “We promoted the event, but many participants attended the event due to word of mouth. The city of Round Rock has a welcoming community with members that are very supportive.”

If you are interested in STEM-For-All events, please click the link to the LBJ Institute website.