Last November, faculty members from Blackfeet Community College (BCC, Browning, MT), Chief Dull Knife College (CDKC, Northern Cheyenne, MT), Fort Peck Community College (FPCC, Poplar, MT), Stone Child College (SCC, Box Elder, MT), and Salish Kootenai College (SKC, Pablo, MT) accepted an invitation from the Montana Space Grant Consortium (MSGC) to view NASA’s MAVEN Mars launch at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The trip, according to Dr. Angela Des Jardins, director of the MSGC, was designed to provide tribal college faculty with an up-close look at NASA’s space operations.
“We are very interested in building up research opportunities at tribal colleges, especially ones that involve students,” Des Jardins said. “We wanted to focus on what we knew would be an exciting opportunity, to help kick start some interest.”
Most of the group had never seen a rocket launch before, and few knew what to expect. “It is incredible how an experience in person is so different from watching it on TV,” said Dianna Hooker, a math instructor at CDKC. “You get not only the visual, but also the sounds, smells, the anticipation, the physical feeling of what is occurring. It is so much more.” Douglas Crebs, a science instructor at SCC, added, “I was ten years old at the inception of the ‘space age’ when the Soviets put up the Sputnik, a freshman in college when Neal Armstrong walked on the moon. Many times I watched launches on TV, and wondered what it must be like . . . thanks to the MSGC staff and NASA, I can cross it off my bucket list.”
The group also learned about NASA’s internship opportunities and programs that help students get excited about science, some of which are already being implemented. Organizers of the trip were excited to see the energy and enthusiasm the experience built within the participants. “Everybody had such profound things to say about what they gained, and what they realized, and how motivated they were,” Des Jardins said. “It was a really special thing.”
For faculty, the MAVEN trip provided inspiration and motivation. As Anthony Berthelote, a science instructor at SKC put it, “Experiencing a NASA launch to Mars is potentially a once in a lifetime experience that I can use to inspire and motivate myself, my kids, and my students with for a long time.”