Young people in Acadiana are learning about and exploring astrophysics, earth science, planetary science, and more in an out of this world summer camp being held in Youngsville.
NASA Astro Camp is currently taking place at schools in Lafayette, Vermilion, and St. Landry Parishes, and includes all the latest resources used by NASA. The camp is a collaboration between the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, the Lafayette Parish School System, and various other area school districts. It's being taught by UL students trained for the 'Stem-ulating Summer' initiative, and it provides kids with a connection and access to NASA that they might not otherwise get. Students engage in activities designed by NASA that help them "train like an astronaut."
"We go from access to getting them highly engaged in some of the real science activities to get them really excited about these activities," explained Dr. Peter Sheppard, professor of Math Education at UL. "And then from there we are hope that this will end up adding to their career aspirations."
The camp allows youth service organizations to bring NASA STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) projects to 2nd-12th graders in their own community. Sheppard said that the kids recreate the same kind of activities that NASA astronauts do as they prepare for missions, on a much smaller scale.
Sheppard said the camp establishes an important link between children and a job that often seems like a fantasy or unattainable.
"But when you can make that connection to see it's something they can maybe do later in life, that's beneficial to kids," he added.
And he hopes the young learners will recognize that being an astronaut is something that they can, in fact, accomplish.
"Kids are so influenced by the things they see and do. Many want to be Olympians because of the things they're seeing now, they may want to end up being UFC fighters because of the things that they're seeing. They may end up wanting to be spelling bee champions because of what they see now. This adds to that," Sheppard explained. "Seeing being an astronaut, being a chemist, being a mathematician is something that I can possibly do. Here's some activities to help motivate me."
Aside from all the science and learning, though, Sheppard has only one goal in mind.
"I just want them to have fun!" he laughed.
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