As a way to educate the next generation of STEM students, Virginia Space Grant Consortium and its partners, NASA Langley Research Center, Commonwealth of Virginia, and Thomas Nelson Community College are offering an exciting, free, online Virginia Earth System Science Scholars (VESSS) four-credit course to high school juniors and seniors in Virginia. This transferable, four-credit, dual enrollment course engages students in real-world investigations of the Earth by working with the latest NASA data and research from satellite and airborne missions. Students will understand that the Earth is a system, and its response to natural and anthropogenic factors will affect humans through changes in the climate.
Students explore all science disciplines while cultivating 21st Century Learning Skills such as critical thinking, data analysis, inquiry-based problem solving, and soft skills such as communication, collaboration, and adaptability. Students will study NASA’s major Earth Science missions addressing how the global Earth System is changing. Topics include the Earth’s surface and interior, atmospheric composition, weather, water energy cycles, and climate variability while emphasizing the concept that all systems have their unique identities, and there is substantial interaction between them. The course is offered from December through April. Successful completion of the course will allow students to earn four college transferable credits from Thomas Nelson Community College (TNCC) in Physical Geology 105.
Students who perform well in the course are invited to participate in the FREE one-week residential summer academy at NASA Langley. An additional transferable credit in GOL 199, Supervised Studies in Geology, can be earned. Scholars work under the mentorship of NASA scientists and engineers and industry and academia partners to examine the state of the art, research, and knowledge on tracking atmospheric convection changes, habitat shifts, sea-level changes, and analyzing effects of changes in surface dynamics.
The problem-based academies integrate the 2018 National Academies’ Decadal Survey, which identifies the critical research needs and scientific goals for NASA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and for research universities for the next ten years. Looking at challenges that will be faced by society in the future, such as a sea-level rise or ecosystem changes, students work in teams to design inter-related Earth observation satellite missions studying four of Earth’s spheres and how they are interconnected: the Atmosphere, the Biosphere, the Hydrosphere, and the Lithosphere. Students address a real-world scenario of creating a satellite mission while interacting with NASA, industry and academic scientists, engineers, and technologist mentors. The dynamics of the Summer Academy allow students to refine their 21st Century workforce skills as they work in a real-world setting in positions mirroring a NASA research team such as engineers, budget analysts, communication specialists, or scientists. The students present their missions to a NASA, academic, and industry professionals panel at the end of the academy.