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NASA Brings 'Drive to Explore' to Vo-Tech

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LAWTON Okla_ Hundreds of southwest Oklahoma school kids widened their eyes and dropped their jaws Thursday.

NASA and Tinker Air Force Base gave them all an up-close experience at the Great Plains Technology Center that they may never forget. The students got to experience NASA's famous 'Drive to Explore' mobile exhibit, showing them what astronauts see when they travel to outer space. They also got to see and control some of Tinker Air Force Base's most innovative technology.

It's all about science, technology, engineering and mathematics, also known as STEM. NASA said it's cultivating the next generation of critical thinkers and innovators within those four elements to better compete in the world market.

Young space explorers: that's the role these students took on Thursday, even getting the chance to see how astronauts view the earth from outer space by boarding NASA's 'Drive to Explore' mobile exhibit.

Plus, they got to see and touch a 3-billion-year-old moon rock.

"I think it's a pretty nice thing that they setup for all kids to come and learn about space and astronauts and everything," said Sterling High School student Trystin Jarvis said.

NASA, along with Tinker Air Force Base, was invited to Great Plains Tech by Northrop Grumman. The company led a group panel discussing why it's so important to give students like Jarvis hands-on experience in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

"I really truly believe that the community here has so much potential, and the kids are so bright," Northrop Grumman Strategic Relations Representative Sophia Kim said. "That's why STEM education is important, because we need to hire some of these students who are going into these sciences and engineering. The baby boomers are retiring, and who will fill those slots as we go forward?"

If hands-on experience wasn't enough for students, they got to hear it first hand from astronaut Mike Foreman. He's been an astronaut since 1998, first inspired about the career as a young boy growing up in Ohio.

He's been to space twice so far.

"It's just phenomenal to fly into space, to look back at the earth while you're floating there in this space station, and seeing this magnificent planet that we live on," Foreman said. "It's just incredible."

He said he knows his chances to explore space would not have be possible without STEM.

"We need to promote it, so we can continue to produce scientist, technologist, engineers, mathematicians in this country," Foreman said. "We are losing our edge in technology in the world, because, in other countries like India and China, technology is producing more STEM-trained students than we are. So, we need to regain that edge."

According to officials, the United States is currently 17th when it comes to nations producing students involved with STEM. They say they are reaching out globally to find other methods of getting students better interested in science and technology.

One official on Thursday's panel said the goal of STEM is not about global dominance, but raising the level of the nation's education. This way, areas of space and planets untraveled by humans, such as Mars, can become reality.

"We do that by not just creating rigor, we got to create relevance," said Sentry One President Ben Robinson. "Why should we take a tough subject in high school, if there is not a relevant reason to do so? How do we create career pathways and change the conversation from just one of education and a diploma to studying relevant subjects for a career?"


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