By: Teresa Drew
Photo Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI
Do you remember what it was like to lay on your back in the sweet grass or a dusty knoll and be transfixed by the wonder of the night sky? I do.
Summer nights meant playing outside until the sky grew dark and because I lived in a small mountain community it meant the fun didn’t stop then. Once the sun set, I had unfettered views as the constellations moved across the night sky; the moon shining so bright we didn’t need lights to see and the Milky Way — so thick it split the sky in half.
These moments of wonder imprinted on my youthful soul and continue to inspire me today. I am inspired to question, to learn, to explore the uncharted world around me. I look to space, the stars, the planets and see unbounded potential.
Moments of wonder are not unique. They happen to all of us, every day and all around, whatever your background. The difference is what you see in these moments, impossibility or potential.
As a nation and global community we have a responsibility to capture and leverage the potential of wonder this coming school year and build on the progress made during summer.
These wonder-inspiring moments create interest and build confidence and persistence for youth on a STEM journey. STEM interest and skill acquisition is a path to economic and social mobility for many and by leveraging these moments we are literally changing the trajectory for millions of young people across the country.
On August 29th, 2022, the Artemis I mission will send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft thousands of miles beyond the Moon — farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown! The wonder-inspiring potential of these two events alone will fuel a generation of young people to pursue careers in space exploration, computer science, engineering, life sciences, and more!
The launch is happening during a historical moment for wonder and inquiry in our country as well.
This summer, we experienced unparalleled investment in out-of-school time learning as the U.S. Department of Education, corporations and private philanthropy partnered to bolster effective, evidence-based initiatives across the country to ensure girls, youth of color, young people living in communities of poverty and rural communities have access to wonder-inspiring moments.
It’s never been more critical for our nation to ensure young people have access to out-of-school learning opportunities to encourage their sense of inquiry. It is estimated that 50% of our nation’s youth — almost 25 million children — do not have access to afterschool learning and its life-changing impact.
As we enter the new school year, there is an opportunity for us to continue the momentum by investing in afterschool programs to keep young people engaged in STEM learning.
The work we do at STEM Next Opportunity Fund is to ensure that young people, the world over, see potential in wonder AND have the power, confidence, and skills to take action on that wonder to become an explorer (in space or here on earth), inventor, builder, or leader! In 2020, we launched the Million Girls Moonshot to focus those efforts specifically to advance gender equity in STEM by inspiring one million more girls to pursue STEM and continue to follow those moments of wonder throughout their lives.
We work with partners like NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement, to scale the use of open-sourced resources for educators and youth that capture these moments of wonders and turn them to potential. Check out the James Webb Space Telescope STEM Toolkit and the Artemis 1 STEM Learning Pathway.
On August 29th, I will have the privilege to attend the Artemis 1 mission launch. Follow me at @teresaldrew to see photos, sneak peeks, and more. Join me, STEM Next, the Million Girls Moonshot, and our hundreds of partners across the country in our journey to stay curious and inspire young people to do the same.
Teresa Drew – @teresaldrew. I am the Deputy Director of STEM Next Opportunity Fund and leading the Million Girls Moonshot initiative: Reimagining who can engineer, who can build and who can invent. As a young girl growing up in a rural mountain community, summer meant long days of exploring and adventuring where the sweet smell of the riverbed met fresh green grass. Moments in time that spurred a lifetime of curiosity and a love of nature. If all young people have the opportunity to get a little dirt on their hands and between their toes, our world will be a better place for all.