With the NASA Community College Network (NCCN), the SETI Institute proposes an initiative to bring NASA science subject matter experts (SMEs) and NASA science resources into the classrooms of the nation’s community college system. There are over 1000 U.S. public, accredited, degree-granting two-year institutions in the U.S. and of these, over 700 offer courses in astronomy, often to students from under-served populations, many of them the first in their families to go to college at all.
Whereas a significant fraction of these students will be transferring to 4-year colleges and ultimately enter a STEM career path, many will not, and as such their general education astronomy course may well be their last formal exposure to science, and more importantly, the process of science, that they will receive in their lifetimes. Of the roughly 300,000 students who take an intro astronomy course in the U.S. annually, an estimated 35-43% take them at community college. Increasing the NASA presence in high-quality, high-impact ways will not only inspire the students during their studies, but it will have a lasting effect on their appreciation of the importance of science, and of NASA, as they join the workforce as more scientifically literate adults.
NCCN will consist of three key engagement strategies guided by needs assessments of both community college instructors (CCIs) and the NASA subject matter experts (SMEs) wanting to engage in outreach. First, brokering direct partnerships between NASA science SMEs and community college instructors. NCCN will provide the means to link the two populations based on needs and expertise. Second, by providing a set of current resources to be used by the SMEs in classroom interactions, or directly by the instructors, that is audience appropriate and “ready to go.” Initially based on the best NASA resources available, curated and translated as needed, and later to include further resources developed by NCCN after gap and needs identification. Third, to provided professional development and training, both for the community college instructors to support their knowledge base of new NASA science or research topics, and thus help communicate new or more challenging concepts to their students, and for the NASA SMEs on how best interact with this audience. For scientists new to outreach, we will help them to increase their impact on, and satisfaction with, their contributions to community college education.
NCCN identifies and addresses a key goal of the SciAct Integration call to “enable NASA science experts and content into the learning environment more effectively and efficiently with learners of all ages.” NCCN will take NASA expertise and NASA content into a realm where it is not currently represented and is badly needed, with an impact that will be felt across the broadest possible spectrum of community college learners and educators alike.
NASA’s Science Activation collective brings the unmatched STEM resources of NASA to schools, libraries and science centers across the United States. NCCN will amplify this reach into America’s community colleges, where many students from underserved groups start their higher education. - Simon Steel, NCCN PI