Smashing Graham Crackers and Launching Rockets to Space: Opportunities Provided by ACA

Nate Friedman
Group shot at the NASA training event

The University of Utah, like many universities across the country, takes an active interest in promoting STEM fields to K–12 students.  With the explosion of STEM learning programs, it can be difficult to stand out or capture students who are bombarded by coding and robotics camps.  Camps at the U of U are always looking to engage students in new ways and to provide unique experiences.  Thanks to the American Camp Association, we will be able to do that next summer. 

Earlier this year I received an email from ACA letting me know about a professional development opportunity with the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI), one of ACA’s educational partners. The goal of the professional development was to provide curriculum designed to get students excited about space.  In addition to the training, LPI coordinated an opportunity to attend the OSIRIS-Rex mission briefing and a special viewing of the mission launch.  Needless to say, I applied and I was fortunate to be one of a handful of people selected to attend. 

Fast forward a month and I found myself in a classroom right outside the Kennedy Space Center in Florida learning about the solar system, asteroids, regolith (space dirt), and the OSIRIS-Rex mission. Over the three days, I spoke with LPI educators, NASA scientists, and experts on space as I learned how to best translate the complex scientific concepts into activities and lessons for a younger population. 

We threw water balloons into the air, we smashed graham cracks with golf balls, and we learned how easy it is to teach about NASA missions every day in our programs. After all of the fun and games, we traveled to the Kennedy Space Center for a OSIRIS-Rex mission briefing from the Deputy Director of NASA and then on to the Air Force Base to view the mission launch. The rocket took off and flew out of view without a hitch. It was amazing to watch.

I cannot capture how amazingly cool this whole experience was in this short article, but I can say that it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There are two lessons to be learned from this:  (1) Read your emails from ACA. Had I not paid attention to the newsletter, I would have never had this experience. (2) ACA and its partners provide incredible opportunities, and as an ACA member I am grateful for the doors this membership has opened.