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NASA’s latest mission can fuel STEM engagement


by Dr. Robert Ambrose Chairman of Robotics & Artificial Intelligence, alliantgroup & Former NASA Software, Robotics and Simulation Division Chief & Deirdre Ricketts, Lead Science Teacher & STEAM Lab Facilitator, Stevens Elementary School & Director of STEAM Education, alliantgroup

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If we don’t address the STEM talent shortage, America will continue to struggle to compete for new developments within technology, engineering, and beyond

STEM education is in crisis in the United States. It’s predicted there will be 3.5 million STEM jobs in the U.S. by 2025–incredible news if not for the fact experts believe at least 2 million of those jobs will go unfilled.

However, the excitement of our nation’s return to the moon could help resolve this. NASA’s Artemis mission just launched its first of three rockets after several months of delays. The goal is to ultimately return humans to the Moon, including the first woman and the first person of color, by 2025. It’s an exciting time for space exploration and perhaps the launch pad American educators and employers need to renew students’ interest in STEM education–and in turn, create a pipeline of new technical talent in the U.S.

The Artemis Mission can bring students within the ‘orbit’ of NASA, so that it’s tangible for them. This is an opportunity, not just for educators, but for our whole community to harness the excitement like our nation did with Apollo decades ago and remain competitive with STEM powerhouses, like China and India.

When Neil Armstrong famously stepped foot on the moon as part of the Apollo program, our nation saw an explosion in STEM degrees over the next decade, especially among women. According to an NPR study, in 1981 there was a 250 percent rise in computer science degrees and a 100 percent rise in physical sciences from when Apollo first launched in 1969. We’re hopeful that Artemis will have a similar effect. And with today’s ability to record/broadcast events instantly sharing with millions via social media, perhaps we can create a groundswell.

Representation matters

It’s been 54 years since the Apollo mission first took man to the Moon. This time around, we hope young kids of all backgrounds will see someone who looks like them, with NASA making it a priority to ensure the crew of Artemis includes more diversity.

Currently, Hispanic and Black professionals are underrepresented in the STEM workforce. Additionally, women only make up about a quarter of workers in computing and engineering fields. A statistic that is further observed when we look back at the NPR study. We see that by 2010 the number of women working in computer science dropped nearly as low as before the Apollo program began.

About the Author

Dr. Robert Ambrose

Dr. Robert Ambrose received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin in Mechanical Engineering and received his M.S. and B.S. degrees from Washington University in St. Louis. Ambrose joined the faculty of Texas A&M and accepted the J. Mike Walker Chair in Mechanical Engineering in August 2021. Also in August of 2021, Dr. Ambrose retired from NASA, where he served in the Senior Executive Service as the Chief of the Software, Robotics and Simulation Division at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. He continues to serve as the Director for Space and Robotics at the Bush Combat Development Complex and his research interests are in space systems for defense, security and commercial applications, as well as robotics and autonomous systems for helping humans on Earth.

Deirdre Ricketts

Deirdre Ricketts has been teaching for over twenty years. She is the lead science teacher and facilitator of the STEAM Lab at Stevens Elementary School, part of the STEAM magnet program, in Houston, TX.

Ms. Ricketts was the winner of the alliantgroup Elementary Science Teacher Award in 2019. This award is done in partnership with the Houston Independent School District.

Born in New York City to parents who immigrated from the Caribbean, Deirdre grew up in Houston and went to the University of Texas at Austin. Her parents promoted education, moral values and a solid work ethic. These paired with her passion for science and STEAM, specifically ensuring equity in STEAM education, have led to Deirdre’s teaching motto: “The World is Your Laboratory!”

Ms. Ricketts strongly believes our nation’s future depends on creating inquisitive learners who are excited by STEAM and are poised to be our next generation of problem solvers, inventors and entrepreneurs. She joined alliantgroup’s Strategic Advisory Board in 2020.