Since its founding in 1969, USRA’s mission has included providing innovative learning opportunities for students, at all levels, in space and aeronautics research, and in STEM fields in general for younger students. USRA’s educational and workforce activities, today, range from supporting student robotics teams, from elementary through high school, with dedicated USRA facilities and personnel; to supporting over 1,600 paid internships at federal laboratories for high school and undergraduate students; to providing USRA-funded scholarship awards to outstanding college students who have demonstrated a career interest in a space-related or aeronautical field. The success of our educational and workforce development programs reflect the passion USRA employees have for their work and the leadership responsibility they feel to inspire and prepare the next generations of scientists.
STEM Education Activities
Throughout the past five decades, USRA has offered innovative learning opportunities for students, educators and the general public.
Since 1969, STEM activities have been a part of USRA’s mission to involve society more broadly in space and aeronautics research so that the benefits of space activities would be recognized.
Internships, Fellowships and Scholarship Awards
As an association of universities, USRA recognizes a fundamental responsibility to facilitate the education and career development of children and young adults. With its focus on the science and technology of space, USRA is uniquely situated to utilize the pervasive fascination with space exploration to engage young people and attract them into careers in the science and technology fields, advancing the Nation’s technical prowess.
This engagement includes programs that span from elementary and middle school to high school to university and beyond, and are supported by NASA, NSF, DOD and USRA’s own corporate resources. A cornerstone of USRA’s commitment to developing the STEM workforce of the future resides in support of intern programs, which supported hands-on experiences for over 1700 students from high school to graduate school in FY2017. In addition, the USRA Scholarship Award Program supports undergraduates who will be future leaders in the fields of space science and aerospace engineering.
USRA institutes and programs engage the university community in various ways–from research collaborations to advocacy on issues important to university space-related research.
USRA institutes and programs engage the university community in a variety of ways: through research collaborations with scientists and engineers; maintaining the active involvement of member universities in our governance and oversight; and advocating in Washington on issues identified by our members as important to university space-related research.
USRA STEMaction Center
The USRA STEMaction Center, established through the integration of STEMaction, a Maryland based non-profit, and USRA, is committed to continuing STEMaction’s legacy. The USRA STEMaction Center is now the Maryland Affiliate Partner for the FIRST LEGO League Junior program, in which kindergarten through third-grade students engage in a science project of discovery. It is also an affiliate partner of the FIRST Tech Challenge, an annual competitive robotics program, in which middle- and high-school student teams compete with and against one another.
The Center enjoys active use by FIRST teams. More than 550 students from 100 teams utilized the facility during the 2017 competition season. Due in part to the use of the facility and the students’ hard work, three of the teams that used the USRA STEMaction Center were recognized as Division Champions at the FIRST World Championship event for their respective programs.
The USRA STEMaction Center also hosted the first annual Maryland Tech Invitational, the premiere off-season competition for the FIRST Tech Challenge program, at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab (APL). Twenty-six teams from nine states competed for grant awards provided by local sponsors. Former NASA Administrator Major General Charles Frank Bolden, Jr. (USMC-Ret.), and APL Director Dr. Ralph Semmel were keynote speakers during the Opening Ceremonies. Students, coaches, and volunteers were also invited to a presentation on the Parker Solar Probe being developed at Johns Hopkins APL before the competition.
The Center hosted an ACT test preparation program for underserved students from the Howard County Public School System. Eleven high school juniors participated in a 15-week Saturday program held at USRA headquarters. The prep program resulted in most students scoring higher on the second round of ACT testing. USRA participants scored, on average, four points more than Maryland averages. The ACT program was deemed a success based on the overall outcome.
Additionally, USRA is serving as the Presenting Institution for the Maryland STEM Festival for 2017. This year’s Festival has more than four hundred events taking place in every county of Maryland over a two-week period. The Maryland STEM Festival is celebrating the use of STEM in agriculture over the course of the 2017 festival.
USRA STEMaction Center programs would not be possible without the support of sponsoring organizations such as the University of Maryland School of Agriculture, Rockwell Collins, the Howard County Community Foundation, Tenable, Best Buy, and many others that helped to make this year a success.
As an association of universities, USRA recognizes a fundamental responsibility to facilitate the education and career development of young adults. With its focus on the science and technology of space, USRA is uniquely situated to utilize the fascination with space exploration to engage young people and attract them into careers in the science and technology fields, advancing the Nation’s technical prowess. A cornerstone of USRA’s commitment to developing the STEM workforce of the future resides in support of intern programs, which supported hands-on experiences for over 1700 students from high school to graduate school in FY2017. In addition, the USRA Scholarship Award Program supports undergraduates who will be future leaders in the fields of space science and aerospace engineering. USRA operates, under sponsorship from NASA, the NASA Internships Program, which places 1,400 students annually at most NASA centers, across the country. USRA similarly operates the AFRL Scholars Program, which places 300 students each year at AFRL sites.
Management of NASA Internships
Vital to achieving NASA’s objective to “Inspire, Educate, Engage, and Employ”, the NASA Internship program seeks to increase the capabilities, diversity, and size of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce through participatory, immersive educational experiences. NASA Internships allow students to apply knowledge acquired in the classroom to advanced scientific research, under the guidance of a NASA mentor. Interns not only gain technical skills, but also the soft skills necessary to secure post-graduation employment in the high-tech workforce. To ensure students receive a well-rounded internship, USRA Coordinators provide on-site experiences, networking events, and professional development opportunities. Through these unique internships, a new generation of scientists, engineers, technologists, physicians, and astronauts are cultivated and retained to advance NASA’s future endeavors. In FY2017, 1,395 students participated in the NASA Internship program. Since program inception in 2013, USRA has managed 4,632 interns, representing 716 high schools, colleges, and universities.
Management of Air Force Research Laboratory Scholars
USRA administers the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Scholars Program, acting as the key to unlocking the potential of our Nation’s future by offering outstanding intern experiences and superior customer service. Since program inception in 2013, more than 990 high school, undergraduate, and graduate students have participated in the AFRL Scholars Program. In FY2017, 267 students participated in technical research projects in advanced manufacturing, biologically-inspired flight and navigation systems, aero-optics, microwave interactions, lasers, space applications, and other cutting-edge research opportunities. USRA’s on-site program coordinators deliver a uniquely tailored experience to Scholars by organizing informal and professional networking events, such as “social scholar” groups and Career Forums with industry-leading employers; educational seminars from AFRL mentors and prominent speakers; and opportunities to develop and sharpen presentation skills.
USRA Scholarship Awards
The USRA Scholarship Awards are provided to college students who have shown a career interest in science or engineering with an emphasis on space research or space science education, and aeronautics-related fields. USRA presents four or more scholarship awards to undergraduate students each fall. Each award is $4,000. Applicants must be full-time students attending a four-year accredited college or university that offers courses leading to a degree in science or engineering. Each award is named in memory of a past USRA employee who has made significant contributions to the community:
The Thomas R. McGetchin Memorial Scholarship Award honors Tom McGetchin, former Director of the Lunar and Planetary Institute, for his significant contributions in the area of volcanic and igneous processes, work accomplished through field, experimental, and theoretical investigations of volcanic activity on Earth, the Moon, and Mars.
The John R. Sevier Memorial Scholarship Award honors Jack Sevier, who during his 22 years with USRA, served as Acting Director of the Lunar and Planetary Institute, as Deputy Director of the Division of Space Life Sciences, and as the Director of the Student Explorer Demonstration Initiative (STEDI). This award honors his dedication to education and advancements in aerospace technology.
The James B. Willett Educational Memorial Scholarship Award recognizes the efforts Jim Willett, a noted astrophysicist who worked with USRA through the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA Headquarters.
The Frederick A. Tarantino Memorial Scholarship Award recognizes Fred Tarantino, USRA President and CEO from 2006 to 2014, for his many contributions to USRA and his dedication to furthering the education of young scientists and engineers in space science related fields.