Called Texas High School Aerospace Scholars, it is open to high schools juniors across the state. Richard Linder, the pre Advanced Placement and physics and rocketry teacher at New Tech, said students apply at the beginning of their junior year, they write an essay and get a recommendation from their state representative.
If the students are accepted, they participate in a 16-week online course on aerospace science and space science, Linder said. When they finish the online portion successfully, at the end of their junior year — summer 2018 in this case — they get to go to Johnson Space Center for a week.
Emilia Gutierrez, Caleb Shook and Taylor Christesson, all 16, plus 17-year-old Cesar Montano and Morena Leyva are taking the class.
At NASA, the students take part in project-based learning, much like the curriculum at New Tech, and get a behind-the-scenes peek at NASA’s workings that the public doesn’t see such as the neutral buoyancy lab. They also earn a credit for a full year of high school science.
“… It really is a pretty demanding curriculum,” Linder said. “The students have only just been accepted to this.”
Linder worked for a summer as a teacher in the Texas High School Aerospace Scholars program.
“When I was there, they would have different NASA employees come and speak to the students, and one after another, a lot of these people they said their foot in the door of NASA was this program as a high school junior,” Linder said.
He said the program has been around for 18 or 19 years and is privately funded, so everything is covered for the students. Linder added that there have been a couple of New Tech students who participated every year, but he said he thought the five this year were the most so far.
“When I was younger, I always wanted to work for NASA,” Montano said. “When I heard about this program, I was in physics class and they told us that it’s a rare opportunity and only kids in Texas can get in it, so I said why not take the shot and I got accepted.”
Many of the other students felt the same way.
“I thought it was super cool, like all those sci-fi movies and working at NASA and stuff would be cool,” Leyva said.
Gutierrez said she wanted to be an astronaut when she was younger, but started pondering different career paths. When this program came up, she thought about it again.
“It just sounded like a really good opportunity that not many people get to have,” Christesson said.
Shook said he had always been interested in space and physics. Hearing that the program could be an entry to NASA inspired him more.
Gutierrez said the course isn’t that difficult, but you have to put the time in and work on it.
“You have to learn how to manage your time. It’s hard because we don’t have a teacher to turn to. They have a lot of slide shows and programs that help us through it, but that’s one thing that’s rigorous about it,” Montano said.
He added that the time and effort is worth it because of the chance to visit the Johnson Space Center.
“And it also counts as a science credit, as well,” Montano said.