Papers and Presentations, Mathematics and Science Initiative
Thank you Susan (Susan Sclafani, Counselor to the Secretary, U.S. Department of Education) for that gracious introduction. I wish to thank each and every member of the audience for your heartfelt expressions of condolence to the families of the Columbia astronauts and to the NASA family. In these difficult times, your support means a great deal to the men and women of our proud agency.
When we accepted your generous invitation to speak at this distinguished event, never for a moment did I think we would be meeting today under such sad circumstances, with our hearts united in grief.
Indeed, people of all races, religions and nationalities have gathered this week in spirit to mourn seven fallen heroes. And the members of the NASA family sincerely appreciate your expressions of condolence.
Tuesday, I was in Houston to participate in the memorial service in honor of the astronauts. President Bush, a man of great faith, comforted the astronauts' families and the entire Nation with his moving tribute to the Columbia crew.
For the past six days we have been working nonstop to find out what caused Saturday's terrible accident. And when we find these answers, and we will, we will correct the problems and do our best to assure that this never happens again. As Administrator Sean O'Keefe has said, we owe this to the brave families of the astronauts and the American people. And we will make good on this solemn pledge.
As you can expect from the dedicated public servants who work for NASA--our scientists, engineers, safety and support people--we are conducting our work with tremendous professionalism and respect for the enormity of our duty.
We don't know when our efforts will be completed, but you can be assured that we will strive unceasingly to honor the legacy of the brave Columbia astronauts.
We will honor their legacy by continuing to pursue our mission goals of understanding and protecting our home planet, exploring the Universe and searching for life, and inspiring the next generation of explorers.
It's that next generation of explorers that I wish to speak about this morning.
We believe that because of the space program's unique hold on the imaginations of the young and the young at heart, we have a special opportunity to inspire and motivate our youth to explore the wonders of math and science, and to aspire to be scientists, engineers, mathematicians and astronauts when they grow up.
To all the educators, scientists, mathematicians, foundations and business leaders with us today who have dedicated their best efforts to improve the mathematical literacy of our Nation's youth, I pledge you this: Even as we intensely focus on finding the cause of Saturday's accident, correcting any problems that we find, and ensuring this never happens again, NASA will also continue our ongoing work to promote math and science education in America.
And working together, we will help raise the level of student mathematic achievement, ensuring that the next generation of explorers will be well prepared and motivated to take on the challenges and opportunities of the century that are just starting to unfold.
In the previous panel, Congressman Ehlers, Tom Loveless, Bill Schmidt and Craig Barrett did an excellent job in laying out the case for improving student mathematics achievement levels. And believe me, we keenly understand how important this education priority is to NASA's ability to undertake our ambitious aeronautics and space research and exploration missions in the future and to ensure safety of flight.
Indeed, our mission goals of understanding and protecting our home planet and exploring the Universe and searching for life will not be carried out if we don't have qualified, well trained people to do it.
Today, as your previous speakers have noted, America has a serious shortage of young people entering the fields of mathematics and science. The U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century--better known as the Hart-Rudman Commission--had this to say on the subject:
"The harsh fact is that the U.S. need for the highest quality human capital in science, mathematics, and engineering is not being met. Given the requirements of advanced 21st century economies, it is not good enough that we produce a sufficient elite corps of science, math, and engineering professionals. We must raise levels of math, science, and technology literacy throughout society."
Now, while those in this audience know that employment opportunities in science and engineering are expected to increase at a rate almost three times greater than for all other occupations through this decade, enrollment in science and engineering college courses, has been in decline. Our best and brightest are being drawn into other professions.
And as many of you know all too well, the best time in life to mold the scientists and mathematicians of the future is when they are young. Yet somehow we are not doing as good a job as we should in nurturing the tremendous natural inquisitiveness that young children have about math and science concepts and the natural world.
At NASA we believe we have a unique ability to reach many of these budding young students, and excite them and their parents about the possibility of engaging in scientific careers.
Tuesday, at the memorial for the astronauts in Houston, Administrator O'Keefe recalled the tremendous enthusiasm that the students from Fowler High School in Syracuse, New York had about their ant colony experiment onboard Columbia. And Mr. O'Keefe noted that this was of 11 Shuttle experiments provided by students throughout America and the world.
As you can imagine, we are doing our best on a number of fronts under the leadership of our new Associate Administrator for Education, Dr. Adena Williams Loston, to attract young students with diverse interests, cultural backgrounds, ethnicity and gender to the study of science, technology, engineering and math.
We do so in a number of ways. We provide educators with curriculum support materials that we hope will not only assist them in conveying the math and science concepts they are teaching, but will also serve to spark students' interest and imagination as we demonstrate how these concepts are applied in our Nation's space program.
We produce technology-based teaching tools and strategies that are grounded in or derived from NASA's missions.
We support professional development of practicing teachers and pre-service teachers.
We send our astronauts, scientists and engineers to visit schools to talk about career opportunities in science and engineering fields.
We offer summer job opportunities and scholarships for promising college students.
And we provide opportunities for older students and faculty such as the ones at Fowler High School in Syracuse to participate in NASA research.
We also plan to continue our Educator Astronaut program.
Last April, Administrator O'Keefe announced that NASA was going to make good on its promise to send an astronaut with an educational background to space--a person who will be fully qualified to participate in mission activities onboard the Space Shuttle and International Space Station, and who will also be uniquely able to take our children...and by extension the rest of us...on an incredible journey of learning from Earth orbit.
Our first Educator Astronaut, is Barbara Morgan. Barbara's an accomplished second and third grade teacher from McCall, Idaho, who for the last four years has been a terrific astronaut as well. Barbara wanted to be with us today, but due to the events of the week, she had to remain in Houston.
And even as we look forward to Barbara's mission when we are able to return to flight, last month we began to set in motion a process in cooperation with the White House, the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation and other partner organizations, to recruit three to six Educator Astronauts to follow in her footsteps.
On multiple flights involving both the Space Shuttle and International Space Station, our Educator Astronauts will demonstrate to students what can be accomplished in space using cutting-edge math and science, and underscore how today's young people can be a part of such adventures in the future.
We think this program has a tremendous potential to complement the goals of Secretary Paige's Mathematics and Science Initiative and we look forward to working with our colleagues at the Department of Education and elsewhere to realize its full potential.
Let me tell you a bit about the application process to become an Educator Astronaut. Educators who are U.S. citizen and certified K-12 teachers with a minimum of three years in-classroom teaching experience within the past four years are qualified to apply. They must also have a bachelor's degree in physical science, biological science, engineering or mathematics, or an education degree with a concentration in these fields.
Applications for Educator Astronauts will be accepted until April 30th of this year, with the announcement of the new corps of Educator Astronauts due early next year. The application package is available on the web at http://edspace.nasa.gov.
Fittingly, this program is designed to engage large segments of the population in the excitement of the Educator Astronaut program. We will invite students and parents to nominate outstanding educators to be considered for an Education Astronaut position through the web site I just mentioned. And NASA will then ask the teachers who have been so recognized to submit a formal application.
We will also encourage students, educators, parents and other members of the public to join something we call the Educator Astronaut "Earth Crew." The Earth Crew is a web-based initiative linking audiences with educational activities and programs, astronaut profiles and training information, basic information on living and working in space, NASA career profiles and more. Of course, all these materials are being created with the goal in mind of supporting national content standards for mathematics, science and technology.
To date, just two weeks after announcing the Educator Astronaut program, we have received over 2,000 nominations for the program, and, most importantly, 700 of those nominations came in following the Columbia accident. The education community has been quite vocal regarding the need to continue pursuing this important initiative.
NASA also recognizes the importance of supporting classroom teachers as they develop the pipeline of our math and science students. To this end we are establishing professional development opportunities through Explorer Schools. These schools will provide inquiry based interactive curriculum that will be conducted at NASA Centers.
NASA has also entered into collaborative partnerships with producers of film and media education materials and with a major text book publisher. The publisher will incorporate NASA's technology, teaching tools and know-how into their 2006 science textbook edition.
Through all our efforts, NASA is committed to developing and sustaining initiatives that capture the imagination of our youth. We have the capability and capacity to advance the President's education agenda in this way.
So while we acknowledge the challenges of space exploration will remain, especially during this difficult period, we will continue to forge ahead in nurturing, inspiring, and motivating students in our nation's classrooms to pursue goals that yield fresh new explorers and discoverers.
Thank you for all that you do to advance the nation's math and science education agenda, and thank you for being here today.