Two of my nerdiest interests have always been astronomy and space travel. As a ‘70s kid, Star Trek and Close Encounters of the Third Kind were big inspirations – and NASA & European astronauts and scientists have said the same over the years. European astronaut and die-hard Trekkie Samantha Cristoforetti even tweeted a photograph of herself wearing a Star Trek Voyager uniform aboard the International Space Station last year. To say that I was green with envy would be quite an understatement.
There weren’t many opportunities to do anything about my love of Space as a public school kid in inner-city West Philadelphia. There were no science fairs or clubs for us and poor aptitude aside, teachers made me hate my required math and science courses. It was enough just to squeak by with less-than-stellar grades since, reinforced by overt and subliminal messages in my surroundings, a disadvantaged kid like me growing up in the shadow of the Ivy League stood no chance of becoming an astronomer or astronaut. Fortunately, today’s Native youth have a better chance to explore these subjects and aim high given support.
Based at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center® in Huntsville, Alabama, Space Camp® has given youth the opportunity to push the boundaries of human exploration since 1982. Dr. Wernher von Braun, former director of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and the rocket scientist whose propulsion work led to the Apollo manned Space flights, championed his belief that young people who were excited about space should be able to have hands-on experience.
Dr. von Braun’s dream was finally made reality in the form of Space Camp thanks to Edward O. Buckbee, the first director of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.
Today’s space exploration, robotics, and aviation Space Camp programs cover a variety of aptitudes, interests, and needs for youth and adults. Week-long camps and day camps are available for fourth grade through high school-age students (ages 9-18), student groups, and Boy and Girl Scouts. Additional programs are offered for disabled trainees who are blind or visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing, and those with other special needs. Space Camp programs are also available for adults, educators, corporate groups, and families. Family programs may include Elders, extended family members, and children as young as seven.
Since its inception, Space Camp has hosted over 600,000 trainees, including the first-ever Oglala Lakota student in 2012 – Spencer Proffer Scholarship* winner Calletano “Tano” Fillspipe-Rodriguez, at the time a 10 year-old Red Cloud Middle School student on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Fancy Bebamikawe is Odawa-Potawatomi First Nations from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory in Canada currently studying medical physics at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario. She is also a mentor for Indigenous youth and a firm believer in the benefits of attending STEM camps.
“Science camps are a really fun way to introduce kids to science and I hope the kids that go to Space Camp have a really positive experience and happy memories,” she told ICTM via email.
“Part of being successful is wanting a goal, the other part is working very hard to get there. I study a lot and am at school almost every day. It’s also important to teach little ones that they have to give back and volunteer as soon as they are able. I volunteer all year doing science outreach in our community, tutoring native kids in science and math, mentoring high school students. For Native folks we have to do a lot of work as it is, the science community is very small so we have to work even harder to grow it. I’m very optimistic though, I think once Native folks get a taste for it they’ll be converted and value it as I do.”
Here are some of the scholarships & tribal programs on offer for the U.S. Space & Rocket Center Space Camp.
The U.S. Space & Rocket Center Foundation has an annual General Scholarship Program. Full scholarships cover tuition, room & board for any 6-day weeklong, individual camp programs and are good for one year. Transportation and incidentals are the responsibility of the scholarship recipient. All applicants must be attending 4th – 12th grade and may apply in one of four categories – Financial Need, Special Needs, Academic Achievement, or Leadership. Each applicant must answer two essay questions, design a mission patch, describe a science project using the scientific method, and provide three letters of recommendation. A selection committee reviews applications and scholarships are awarded based on available funding. 2016 Applications are now closed. Scholarship applications for 2017 will open in the Fall.
The Chickasaw Nation Aviation and Space Academy (CNASA) in operation since 2003, the Chickasaw Nation also assists its youth (both resident and at-large) with the opportunity to attend Space Camp. For more information, contact the office of supportive programs at (580) 272-5579 or STMProgram@chickasaw.net.
The Mars Generation is offering 10 full scholarships to Space Camp. “Not every bright and talented student can afford to go to Space Camp; we’d like to send 10!” former NASA Astronaut and High School Teacher Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger aka @AstroDot announced via Twitter. Metcalf-Lindenburger is a member of the Advisory Board for The Mars Generation. “A lot of kids aren’t necessarily interested in science and math, but they do get excited about things like the Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. I want to continue to build more connections with the community to get them jazzed about studying science,” she says on the MG website.
The application process has two parts: “the application process begins with the teachers who recognize talent and need. Teachers will nominate students who have demonstrated an aptitude in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) who would benefit from an experience like Space Camp. The Mars Generation board members will review nominations, and invite applications from qualified nominated students. Each application will include a two-page essay from the student. Deadline for teacher nominations is no later than Feb. 1, 2016, and student applications must be completed and submitted online on or before March 1, 2016.” To nominate a student for a scholarship teachers should go to: http://themarsgeneration.org/space-camp-scholarship-nominations-form/
The Northrup Grumman Foundation offers annual education grants for students and teachers for a variety of educational programs promoting space exploration, science, technology, engineering, and math including Space Camp. Past recipients have included the Native American Community Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Sacaton Middle School in Sacaton, Arizona. For more information see the organization’s foundation page and grants guidelines. Please note that grants cannot be given to individuals.
For information on other tribal STEM scholarships and programs, check with your tribal office. Additionally, scholarships may be available from your local school district.
(The defunct Spencer Proffer Scholarship offered 12 Proffer Family Explorer scholarships for full tuition and room & board to US Native American / Alaskan Native and Indigenous Canadian students aged 9-11 in 2012 in Partnership with Space Camp.)
See Related: Gravity Wins: NDN Geek Reflects on Not Having the Right Stuff
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