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30 Teachers Selected as Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors to Bring NASA Science to Classrooms

The SETI Institute has selected 30 teachers from 10 states as 2021 NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors (AAAs). AAA is a professional development program for science teachers designed to improve science teaching and increase student learning and STEM engagement. This year’s expanded AAA program includes not only high school teachers but also middle school and community college teachers. Anne Arundel Community College Assistant Professor of Astronomy Deborah Levine, Ph.D., who has 23 years of experience as an infrared astronomer, was the only selected instructor from Maryland. 

“The AAA program provides a field-tested curriculum for light and how we get information from light that includes use of real science data, and I expect quite a bit of that to have a permanent home in AACC’s astronomy classes,” she said. “But perhaps even more important, I will bring back stories. Just posting an announcement in my online courses that I was selected to be part of the first cohort of community college instructors in this program generated a strong student response.” 

AAA teachers will receive training in astrophysics and planetary science. Their training includes a week-long STEM immersion experience at a NASA astronomy research facility such as the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). After their training, the AAAs teach a physical science curriculum module created by the SETI Institute that connects curriculum concepts to NASA- and SOFIA-enabled research. 

“This program is known to be effective in increasing student learning in the classrooms of teachers who have been through the program.  We receive in-depth training in astronomy using infrared light,” Levine said. “This program will help us bring that concept to students in hands-on way, backed by in-depth personal experience.” 

“We are grateful that NASA will be funding the AAA program through 2025 and are especially excited to be adding middle school and community college teachers and their students,” said Dr. Dana Backman, AAA program lead. “These teachers will use their professional development and SOFIA experiences to convey real-world content to their students that illuminate the value of scientific research and the wide variety of STEM career paths available to them.” 

About the Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program: The SETI Institute’s NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors (AAA) program is one of ~30 awards to U.S. organizations competitively selected by NASA under the Science Activation program. These cooperative agreements more effectively engage learners of all ages with NASA science. Selections were made by the agency's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) in Washington, DC.  The AAA program is funded under NASA SMD NNX16AC51A. The NASA AAA program began in 2016. 

About the SETI Institute: Founded in 1984, the SETI Institute is a non-profit, multi-disciplinary research and education organization whose mission is to explore, understand, and explain the origin and nature of life in the universe and the evolution of intelligence. Our research encompasses the physical and biological sciences and leverages expertise in data analytics, machine learning and advanced signal detection technologies. The SETI Institute is a distinguished research partner for industry, academia and government agencies, including NASA and NSF. 

More about the program and the other teachers selected. 

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