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Bringing the Cosmos to the Classroom: WVU Tech Students Take on Space Outreach

The West Virginia Space Public Outreach Team (SPOT) offers college students an opportunity to share their passion for space exploration with K-12 students throughout the state. Sponsored by NASA and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), the program puts SPOT ambassadors in the classroom to deliver interactive presentations and get young students excited about space, technology and engineering.

“Our goal is to share how NASA’s scientists and astronomers are working to educate the community about space and beyond to help define our place in this vast universe,” said Thy Dinh, SPOT Ambassador and President of WVU Tech’s Student Partnership for the Advancement of Cosmic Exploration (S.P.A.C.E.) organization.

This month, Thy and six other WVU Tech students made the three-hour trip to Green Bank, West Virginia, home of the famed NRAO Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT). There, they joined students from Shepherd University, WVU, Marshall University and West Virginia Wesleyan College for a two-day SPOT training session.

In Green Bank, participants toured the GBT and used a 40-foot telescope to capture data from hydrogen clouds in the Milky Way. During training sessions, students learned to give presentations on topics such as the International Space Station, space-based telescopes and the aspects of the universe – like radio and gravitational waves – inaccessible to the naked eye but vitally important to the study of the cosmos.

Once a student successfully completes SPOT training, provides a sample presentation to SPOT trainers and becomes a certified ambassador, they can begin presenting what they’ve learned in the classroom. K-12 schools book presentations online and SPOT ambassadors in the region will work directly with the school to set up a presentation.

WVU Tech mechanical engineering professor, Dr. Farshid Zabihian, serves as an advisor for the students in the program, but said that SPOT is a wholly student-run effort.

“The great thing about this program is that it’s student-oriented. SPOT ambassadors must learn the presentation content, which is quite advanced. On top of that, they’re learning skills like self-discipline, clear communication, punctuality, self-confidence and networking – all the things you would need to successfully operate in a real-world workplace environment,” he said.

Dr. Zabihian said the program’s impact stems from the fact that college students, not professors, are giving these presentations.

“Above all, the program gives our students a chance to give back to the community,” he said. “Some of these students are going back to their old high schools to share their own experiences. The lessons are more powerful when they are coming from a student who was sitting at those same desks just a few years ago.”

While all of WVU Tech’s SPOT participants are currently members of S.P.A.C.E., any student interested in space sciences can participate in the program. To find out how you can get involved with SPOT or S.P.A.C.E., contact Dr. Farshid Zabihian.

Interested in booking a SPOT ambassador for your K-12 class? Request a presentation here.