By Lena Anthony
Photograph courtesy of Carolyn Bushman
Volume 148, Number 2, March/April 2014, Page 5
When Carolyn Bushman first learned about the NASA Explorer School Project in 2004, she immediately thought about what it could mean for her low-income, predominantly Hispanic students in their small, rural town of Wendover, Utah.
"We're about an hour and a half away from the nearest city, and when you're that far away, there aren't a lot of professional role models," says Ms. Bushman, a math teacher at Wendover High School. "Too many of our students were dropping out to start working at the nearby casinos. We had to find a way to show them there were other opportunities out there."
She thought the program, which provided grant money and access to NASA's people, missions, research and facilities, would help inspire her students. Others in the school felt it was a long shot. The program, in its second year, was choosing just 50 schools nationwide, and the deadline to apply was three weeks away.
Wendover High School made the deadline and today its NASA Explorer School Project is thriving. In the past 10 years, Ms. Bushman and her students have traveled cross-country to witness two shuttle launches. Her students designed a flag that traveled to the International Space Station. Their experiments have been launched into space. They've shadowed NASA employees at the Ames Research Center in California. And they've had a number of discussions with NASA astronauts, including Sandra Magnus, who first visited the school the year the program launched and then spoke to students from the International Space Station in 2009.
"After that 20-minute downlink, the seniors came to me and said they wanted Astronaut Magnus to speak at their graduation," Ms. Bushman recalls. "I looked at them like they were crazy."
But then her students reminded her of something she often repeated to them: "Reach for the stars." And so she emailed Astronaut Magnus, who spoke at the graduation for Wendover High's 17 seniors in 2009.
To say that the program has exceeded Ms. Bushman's expectations is an understatement. "It truly has changed my life and the lives of many of my students," she says.
One of those success stories is that of Esmeralda Arreola—a promising student who was unsure how she could afford college. Because of the NASA program at Wendover, she was hired as an intern at the Ames Research Center for two summers and earned a full scholarship to Utah State University, where she's studying chemistry and has dreams of working for NASA someday.
"That's what it's all about—changing students' lives and making them aware that they can do anything they want to do," she says. "Now I have students wanting to be doctors, nurses, engineers or lawyers, whereas before I seldom heard students talking about wanting to go to college."
To recognize her efforts, the Bear River DAR Chapter, Logan, Utah, of which Ms. Bushman is a member, awarded her the Mary Smith Lockwood Founders Medal for Education in 2007.
"It was the first honor I received as a teacher, and I cherish it because it meant that people were recognizing what I was trying to accomplish and the difference I was trying to make," says Ms. Bushman, who also was named Teacher of the Year by the National Space Club in 2012. She has been involved in the NASA Solar System Ambassador and SOFIA Airborne Astronomy Ambassador programs.
Despite her excitement over the DAR award, she wasn't able to attend the ceremony. That's because on the same day, she and her students were in New Mexico at a rocket launch, where they conducted several experiments, including one on board the rocket.
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