By Lisa Capobianco
When Abbie Barbour of Kennedy Middle School heard about the 2014 Summer Institute in Science, Technology, Engineering and Research (SISTER) Program at Goddard Space Flight Center, she jumped at the opportunity of a lifetime. An incoming eighth grader, she recently spent a week at the flight center in Maryland meeting engineers, astrophysicists, and other women of NASA who encourage girls like Abbie to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Abbie said her science teacher Pamela Pepin inspired her to apply for the program this past school year. The SISTER program is a five-day summer program with the goal of increasing awareness of and offering hands-on experiences for middle school girls to explore STEM education and career areas.
“I’m interested in astrophysics,” said Abbie, who also participated in a STEM-related program at Central Connecticut State University this past year. “I’ve always been fascinated with space.”
From Monday, July 14 to Friday, July 18, Abbie and 40 other girls from other parts of the U.S. took part in a variety of activities at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, which serves as the home of the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists who make spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study Earth, the sun, our solar system and the universe. Through the program, Abbie not only learned the effect of space-bases telescopes on space exploration, but she was also introduced via webcasting to middle school girls who have participated in a companion program at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. Besides making ice cream using liquid nitrogen, Abbie also learned the principle of rocketry by building a model rocket and learned about a variety of career opportunities that NASA provides. The program featured guest speakers, including Dr. Ellen Stofan, the deputy director of Science and Exploration at NASA Headquarters and Colleen Quinn-House, who works in the James Webb Space Telescope Project Office, as well as Dr. Mamta Patel, the Headquarters Project Manager for Women at NASA. Each activity incorporated at least one STEM-related area, and by the end of the week, students shared project presentations on their five-day experience in the program.
Abbie said she enjoyed learning about the new James Webb telescope, which will be launched in 2018, adding how she looks up to Quinn-House as a role model in the STEM field. Looking ahead, Abbie said she hopes to pursue internship opportunities at NASA when she enters high school with the goal of becoming an astrophysicist one day.
“Anything is really possible in the NASA program,” said Abbie, noting that it is interesting to see how space affects the human body.
“I hope I take the momentum I had in NASA—I was able to do a lot of things very quickly,” said Abbie, who also is the co-editor of the yearbook as well as a member of the JFK Color Guard and the Newspaper Club.
Abbie’s passion for space began nearly before she was born. When Abbie’s mother Michelle, was pregnant with her, she continuously watched the movie Apollo 13. Michelle, who was also fascinated with space growing up, said she feels proud of her daughter for not missing out on the opportunity of a lifetime at NASA.
“It’s really cool because since she was nine or ten years old, she’s been doing these science programs,” said Michelle. “There’s so many opportunities available for girls—America is really pushing for women in science.”
Established in 1959, the Goddard Space Flight Center is NASA’s first space complex. After Abbie returned home from the space center, Pepin said she is thrilled that Abbie had the opportunity to participate in the program, and looks forward to seeing her student experience other STEM-related opportunities in the future. Pepin also recognized Abbie for taking the initiative to pursue an area she feels so passionate about beyond the classroom. She hopes Abbie’s experience in the program will inspire other students to do the same.
“Kids need to know that there are many adults who feel privileged to support them in their efforts to learn and grow, but they need to take that first difficult step,” said Pepin, who also recognized Abbie for her curiosity to understand and willingness to work for more knowledge. “By sharing her experiences, other students may be convinced that they too can do extraordinary things.”
Abbie said when she returns to school, she hopes to inspire other students to explore programs like the ones provided by NASA.
“I think this has given me a head start in possibly getting into NASA,” said Abbie. “The earlier you get into science, the easier it is to make an impact.”
Comments? Email lcapobianco@BristolObserver.com.