Dawn Minnick-Trujillo was casually scrolling through her work email last fall when she came across a flier about an ambassador program offered by NASA.
“The flier kind of explained what the program was,” Minnick-Trujillo said. “Maybe two weeks after that, anyone interested did a webinar with the district where they could ask questions. Then the application opened.”
Minnick-Trujillo, a physics teacher and robotics coach at Las Vegas Academy of the Arts, applied. Now, she’s one of three Clark County School District teachers selected by the nonprofit Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute to participate in the Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program, a joint effot between SETI and NASA that takes place at NASA’s science research aircraft facility in Palmdale, California, in late summer and early fall.
The others were Daniel Burleson of Rancho High School and Tyler Thompson of West Career & Technical Academy. The institute selected 28 teachers from 13 school districts in eight states.
“I love science,” Burleson said. “Astronomy is probably my favorite, but physics is what I focused on. I’m interested in going to watch and see what the scientists do with the information they’re gathering and really just observe the process of science and bring it back to my students.”
Through the program, teachers will receive training in astrophysics and planetary science. They’ll also participate in a weeklong STEM immersion experience in Palmdale that will include research flights onboard NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) — a highly modified Boeing 747SP aircraft fitted with a telescope, cameras and spectrographs.
Teachers are training via web seminars, according to Dana Backman, AAA principal investigator with the California-based SETI Institute.
“We currently talk to them every two weeks,” Backman said. “They’re learning about SOFIA — some of the things SOFIA has done, discoveries made along the way. We’ll meet in the summer for a workshop, so when they finally get to Palmdale in September or October for the SOFIA flight, we’ll have trained them quite a bit.”
Teachers’ two-week curriculum will cover infrared light, visible light and the electromagnetic spectrum, he said.
The goal of the program, Backman said, is to enhance student STEM achievement and engagement by providing professional development for high school science teachers. The program started in 2011.
“We want the teachers to understand and take back how science works,” Backman said.