STEM curriculum coming to Middlesboro

Published 5:19 pm Thursday, August 4, 2022


Local school officials, as well as partners from NASA and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology came together recently to discuss a new STEM curriculum being introduced this year in Middlesboro schools. The program is designed to help ensure academic achievement and prepare students for success in the real world.

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STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math, describes an  intertwined group of academic disciplines that are in high demand in the job market. Middlesboro Independent this year will integrate teachings of STEM into the curriculum such as critical thinking, problem solving, grit and the value of the creative process and the failures that come with it. This type of education teaches skills to students that are thought to make future job-seekers more employable, teaching them skills that are important in the 21st century and will remain important in the future for years to come.

Among the speakers were current and retired astronauts, NASA officials, students enrolled in STEM programs elsewhere

Retired astronaut and former NASA chief researcher Peggy Whitson, Ph.D. is a three-time visitor to the International Space Station. She also comes from a rural background, and says where you are from does not dictate where you are headed. A native of rural Iowa, she earned a doctorate degree in biochemistry from Rice University in Houston, where she has been an adjunct professor in the school’s Maybee Laboratory for Biochemical and Genetic Engineering since 1997. She also noted that STEM research does not necessarily create a path to a metropolitan area like Houston, and went on to say math and the sciences can be used in field such as agriculture.

Alicia Baturoni Cortez from the office of STEM Engagement at NASA headquarters in Houston echoed Whitson’s sentiments that not all STEM careers have to be what is thought of as strictly STEM fields, noting a need from NASA in fields such as artists, welders and physical therapists. One tool for educational engagement is, which teachers and students can visit to see the full array of STEM programs and ways to engage with NASA.

Zahra Ronizi, a 16-year-old from Texas, talked about the opportunities STEM programs can open for students. Her goal has been a career with the space agency, and she is well on her way thanks to a focus on STEM-based education. A self-proclaimed STEM-inist, Ronizi has been awarded a scholarship to the University of Alabama-Huntsville. Huntsville is home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

Astronaut Dr. Dava Newman is part of an ongoing schoolwide program focusing on leadership and supporting the goal of inspiring students to reach their full potential and learn about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics opportunities.

The program links students directly to astronauts aboard the International Space Station, providing unique, authentic experiences designed to enhance student learning, performance and interest in STEM. Astronauts living in space on the orbiting laboratory communicate with NASA’s Mission Control Center in Houston 24 hours a day, and this partnership will act as the students “mission control” boosting them to their goals.

For more than 21 years, astronauts have continuously lived and worked aboard the space station, testing technologies, performing science, and developing the skills needed to explore farther from Earth. Through NASA’s Artemis program, the agency will send astronauts to the Moon, with eventual human exploration of Mars. Inspiring the next generation of explorers – the generation of learners that Dr. Dava Newman endearingly calls the Mars Generation – ensures our own will be a part of the leaders in space exploration and discovery.