More than 1,500 area middle and high school GEAR UP students did not have to travel to Houston to see the workings of the NASA Johnson Space Center, thanks to The University of Texas-Pan American and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration the astronauts, scientists, geologists and training specialists were brought to them during NASA Awareness Day, Friday, April 26 in the UTPA Fieldhouse.
NASA Awareness Day is a nationwide effort to expose students and educators to careers, technology, education, and other opportunities at NASA.
"We are committed to motivating and preparing students for jobs with NASA," said George Reese, associate administrator for the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs (OEOP) for NASA. "NASA is looking for a few good men and ladies. Our goal is to help you become better acquainted with what we do and give you better thoughts for your future."
Also in attendance was Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, who discussed the opportunities available to students who continue with their higher education goals and invited them to participate in the upcoming UTPA-Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology Week (HESTEC), Oct. 14-19.
"What you are seeing here on stage is brought to you by UTPA via NASA and it is certainly an exciting thing happening right before your eyes," Hinojosa said. "What NASA likes about the Rio Grande Valley is that they see a lot of potential in you as young Hispanics."
Students had the opportunity to hear from several Hispanic NASA representatives on various topics including space suit design, astronaut training, meteorites, space shuttle production and other areas of space and exploration.
Speakers included Fernando Caldeiro, astronaut, NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC); Robert Treviño, engineer, Advanced Extra Vehicular Activities, NASA JSC; Debbie Ramos Trainor, Training Specialist, Astronaut Office, NASA JSC; Charles Galindo, senior scientist, Hernandez Engineering, NASA JSC; Millie Mateau, program manager, Minority University Research and Education Programs (MUREP), NASA Headquarters; and Lupita Armendariz, program manager, MUREP, NASA JSC. The speakers encouraged students to apply themselves in school in the areas of math, science and technology and to take advantage of all the resources around them to get them to the NASA level.
"I want to leave you with a few things to think about and that is to do your best at what you do and have fun doing it," said Treviño.
Astronaut Caldeiro echoed Treviño's remarks. He said to work at NASA, not everyone has to have Ph.D., but they do need math and science skills.
"Math and science are the surest way to get you to do work with NASA," said Caldeiro.
During the event, students had the opportunity to ask NASA representatives questions about the program and space, and view and try on some of the astronaut equipment and take a glimpse at a rock from Mars.
Juan Salinas, an eighth grader at La Joya Memorial Middle School, said he is very inspired to become an astronaut and one day discover another planet. Salinas said he was excited UTPA brought NASA down to speak to them because he has never had the chance to travel to the Johnson Space Center.
"Today was very interesting because the astronaut (and others) told us the truth about space and what they do and they also brought their equipment which was cool because it was the real thing," Salinas said.
Students and educators who attended the NASA event also were treated to lunch and tours of the UTPA Science and Engineering buildings.
"I hope these future scientists get excited about science and engineering," said Dr. Edwin LeMaster, associate dean of the UTPA School of Engineering and Computer Science. "I hope this event shows students how normal people can do it and work at NASA, and they don't have to be geniuses. They just need to be motivated."