NASA has selected the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin for a five-year, $1.3 million grant that will support the national expansion of a STEM program that gives high school students and teachers the opportunity to use NASA resources and work directly with engineers at UT Austin’s Center for Space Research (CSR).

The grant will support students from across the country to perform research; increase their skills in science, technology, engineering and math; and learn valuable lessons about earth systems from NASA’s fleet of satellites.

Established in 2010 at CSR with funding from NASA Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Science (ROSES) and the Texas Space Grant Consortium, the program has served about 12 students and three teachers each summer since its inception. The new funding will allow CSR to expand the program to 250 students and teachers each summer, grow the student internship program held at CSR and launch a new online earth science high school program.

Wallace Fowler, a professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, and Margaret Baguio, senior education and outreach coordinator for the Texas Space Grant Consortium, will manage the expanded program.

Nationally, a number of reports have shown that there is declining student interest, poor preparedness, a lack of diverse representation and low persistence of U.S. students in STEM disciplines.

“This project addresses the national need to increase the number of high school students, particularly under-represented minorities and those from underserved areas, who will pursue STEM college degrees,” Fowler said.

During the past five years, 100 percent of the program’s students have gone on to college, and 96 percent have pursued or are pursing STEM degrees.

CSR’s program uses NASA facilities and assets to provide work experience and research and educational opportunities for high school students to encourage them to pursue STEM careers and preparation.

Students who participate in the internship program will work on real NASA projects that will connect learners to NASA-unique resources in earth science. Meanwhile, teachers will be prepared to deliver STEM instruction using NASA assets and content.

With NASA support, CSR staffers will create a Web-based interface for the new earth science high school program that can be accessed by participating schools. Eventually, CSR would like to offer the online curriculum more widely.

The program will help NASA meet its goal of increasing the number of teachers and students using data gathered from NASA’s Earth Observing System to investigate and analyze our changing earth and weather patterns.

“We are excited because we will be able to give many more students and teachers a better understanding of the STEM disciplines,” Baguio said. “And students from underserved areas that would not otherwise have access to a program like this will now be a part of NASA’s role in climate investigations.”