Calling Inland Empire STEM Educators: Check Out Our Out-of-This-World Opportunity from NASA
By: Jeff Nazzaro
In collaboration with UCR University Extension, the NASA MUREP [Minority University Research and Education Project] Aerospace Academy (MAA) Launchpad program at UCR currently offers an out-of-this-world fellowship opportunity for Inland Empire STEM educators and administrators. The Applied Data Science for Educators Specialized Study Certificate program will re-launch with a new five-week, 100 percent online program from September 27 to October 29.
With NASA grant money allocated to the MAA Launchpad program, qualified applicants will be considered for full tuition reimbursement for the two-course, six-unit certificate program, with priority given to applicants from under-resourced high schools and communities.
“With NASA grant money allocated to the MAA Launchpad program, qualified applicants will be considered for full tuition reimbursement for the two-course, six-unit certificate program…”
“In-service high-school teachers and those with experience in STEM are ideal for this program,” said Xinnan Du, who manages the NASA MAA Launchpad program at UCR, “but if there are teachers who are currently not teaching but plan to get back to teaching in the near future, or if they are helping establish any kind of data science programs for high schools on the school-district level—so even if they’re a high school staff member—we would consider them for the fellowship.”
This educator training program was piloted in Fall 2020. Meant to help bolster data science curricula in area high schools, the certificate program consists of a four-unit lecture course and a two-unit lab course that run concurrently, with midterm examinations in Week 3 and finals in Week 5. The lecture course gives students a thorough grounding in Data Science, while the lab component delves deeper into applying that knowledge through computer programming. With the online format, students have unlimited access to all materials, including lectures and tutorials, 24-7, which is perfect given the challenging coursework—such as learning to code using the Python programming language—and the busy schedules of working educators. There will also be discussion sessions, held synchronously, where students can engage in class topics with the instructor and their classmates.
“The lecture course gives students a thorough grounding in Data Science…”
“It’s as minimally interactive as you want it to be, but you can also experience a lot of interaction with colleagues and the instructor if you are interested in that,” said Program Coordinator Ellie Peña. “The way that the courses were structured in the past, they were mainly homework-based, and homework really is to give the students practice in all of these new topics that they’re learning. And like so many of the courses at UCR University Extension, these are meant to enhance what you are doing professionally, so as the participating teachers are enriched from these courses, they’ll be able to apply what they learn directly into their classrooms and give back to their students whatever they were able to get out of the courses.”
According to Xinnan, who also happens to be a UCLA-trained astronomer doing post-doctoral research under Professor Bahram Mobasher in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UCR, the potential applications for Data Science in a high school STEM setting are myriad. “There is a lot of space to incorporate Data Science in not only computer science but also the physical sciences, biological sciences, engineering, etc.,” said Xinnan. “For example, any data analysis that’s needed, any visualization of data that’s involved would apply because they’re all part of data science. High school students learning physics, chemistry, or environmental science could actually visualize the data, extract useful information from the data, and connect that with the concept that they are being taught.”
“High school students learning physics, chemistry, or environmental science could actually visualize the data, and extract useful information from the data…”
In terms of high school computer science, Xinnan stresses the importance of at least getting students’ feet wet with Python, a programming chameleon whose diverse applications make it essential for STEM professionals. “Almost all the PhD students and individuals working in STEM fields I have interacted with know coding at some level,” Xinnan said. “It’s a useful tool for manipulating data. In high school computer science curriculum, coding doesn’t have to be taught at a very high level. But if students can get started with coding, it will be very beneficial in the long run.”
Xinnan pointed to emerging STEM fields that make heavy use of Python specifically and data science and computer science generally: virtual reality (VR) and the closely related augmented reality (AR). Her supervisor, Professor Mobasher, has established a VR lab on the UCR campus in collaboration with multiple BCOE departments, and they’re working towards developing VR research and material for undergraduate courses.
“Some of those courses and materials can be easily adapted to the high school level and used for educational purposes,” Xinnan said. “That’s another way where data science, not specifically the content but its application, would help high school students better learn STEM.”
“Not everyone needs to finally end up in a STEM field and become an engineer or scientist, but through the MAA Launchpad program we are hoping to support the next generation of STEM professionals.”
In addition to the Applied Data Science for Educators Specialized Study Certificate program, the NASA MAA Launchpad program also funds UCR University Extension’s High School Summer Academy, which provides merit-based scholarships for area students to take college-level Summer Session STEM courses, with priority given to underrepresented minority groups and females. In addition, Xinnan organizes quarterly Family Engagement Science Nights for underserved high schools in the Inland Empire. These three-hour events, held at a different school each quarter, feature parallel sessions with hands-on activities, live experiments, mini science lectures, and a STEM career panel.
“Not everyone needs to finally end up in a STEM field and become an engineer or scientist,” Xinnan said. “But as a science professional, if you want to be successful you need to have a very solid foundation of subject-matter knowledge and at the same time be very creative to do original work and advance the field. Through the MAA Launchpad program we are hoping to support the next generation of STEM professionals.”