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Middle school students study life in space at New Mexico State's Aerospace Laboratory

More than 100 Las Cruces middle school students are spending a week this summer studying life in space at New Mexico State University's Aerospace Laboratory, a collaboration between NASA Glen Research Center and NMSU's Colleges of Education and Engineering.



Students, left to right, Abraham Samogo, a student at Sierra Middle School, Vincent Mestas, a student at Zia Middle School, and Jessica King, a student at Vista Middle School, test their land rover on the asteroid terrain they developed during a one-week

ng these industrious and dedicated students leaves no doubt that the future of space exploration is in good hands," said Susan Brown, co-director of the academy.


The lab is part of the Southern New Mexico Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy (SNM SEMAA) developed at the university with a $400,000 grant from NASA.

The academy works with public elementary, middle and high schools in Southern New Mexico that primarily serve minorities who are under-represented in science and engineering fields.

The summer program consists of four one-week programs for sixth, seventh and eighth graders. The third week of the summer program began Monday and the final week will start July 15. Each week 28 students participate in activities related to life in space.

"It's an exciting week that involves the application of math, engineering and science with an aerospace theme," Brown said.

During the first two weeks, students explored what life needs to survive and what environments might support life. Through research and presentations, students collaborated in teams to determine four places where life may be found in space. Each team investigated one of the locations and built a terrain to represent that location in space. Using robotic parts, each team designed a rover that could tour or explore their terrain. A small video camera was attached so the students at "mission control" could see the progress of their rover on the simulated space terrain.

"The students are extremely creative and learn quickly to work together," said Lynn Coffman, a master's student in New Mexico State's College of Education.

Pre-service teachers assisting with the summer program include Coffman, Jessica Kelley and Deborah Newton. Academy staff -- Brown, lab coordinator Lisa Snow, administrative assistant Clara Bulger and instructor Wendy Traylor -- also work with the students.

SNM SEMAA consists of a combination of school-based curriculum enhancements, university-organized enrichment activities and parent outreach. The components are designed to work with each other as a comprehensive program to improve student achievement and increase participation in science, mathematics, engineering and technology.

During the school year, the academy hosted eight-week sessions after school or on Saturdays. The program was available to Sierra and Lynn middle schools, but will broaden to include Vista and Picacho middle schools and Hermosa Heights and Booker T. Washington elementary schools this fall.

Brown said because there was a waiting list for each of the four one-week programs the academy wants to enlarge the summer program next year.

For more information call Brown at (505) 646-1397.

Photo is available at http://ucommphoto.nmsu.edu/newsphoto/aerospace_lab.jpg
CUTLINE: Students, left to right, Abraham Samogo, a student at Sierra Middle School, Vincent Mestas, a student at Zia Middle School, and Jessica King, a student at Vista Middle School, test their land rover on the asteroid terrain they developed during a one-week summer program at New Mexico State University's Aerospace Laboratory, a collaboration between NASA Glen Research Center and NMSU's Colleges of Education and Engineering. (New Mexico State University photo by Darren Phillips)

Julie M. Hughes
June 18, 2002