Advanced Manufacturing. Engineering. STEM Education. NASA!

For many young students, these topics are full of exciting possibilities – but they need opportunities where they can learn about them. Young participants in Manufacturing Connect, a program of Manufacturing Renaissance, had a chance to do just that on May 13 in a virtual field trip presented by NASA and the University of Texas at El Paso, which partners with the agency. Hundreds of students around the country attended the event.

During the program, panelists offered internships and summer camp opportunities to participants.

“Our program is always about possibilities,” says Leslye Long, Assistant Program Director of Manufacturing Connect. “These types of exposure field trips – in person, or in this case virtual – are exactly what we want to give to every kid in school or young people who are out of school. These kids should dream – and dream big.” Long and Dee Dee Jones, Industry Coordinator for Manufacturing Renaissance, facilitated the event for Manufacturing Connect.

Throughout this event, speakers emphasized the great and growing need for highly skilled workers in an array of manufacturing fields – and encouraged participants to seek out opportunities.  The presentation featured live video and pictures of key areas, machinery, and projects for NASA that use advanced manufacturing.

Dr. Erica Alston, Deputy Space Grant Manager at NASA’s Langley Research Center, Office of STEM Engagement, spoke of her office’s efforts to bolster the number of aerospace-trained students in this country and encouraged students to access STEM-oriented research opportunities and seek out mentors. She also spoke of her experience as being the only person in color in the room during her career and growing up in a single-parent home in rural North Carolina. For students who are concerned about the cost of education, Dr. Alston had a message: “Finding opportunities to pay for school? They’re there.  IF you are a minority – Latinx, African American, female, there are so many opportunities.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Calvin Stewart shared his view of the growing potential of jobs in the manufacturing field. Dr. Stewart is Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Texas at El Paso with a joint appointment in the Center for Space Exploration Research. He also directs the Materials at Extremes Research Group at the university.  Dr. Stewart told participants about the “need to create new materials and technologies,” and how the next generation of people who enter the manufacturing field will play a vital role in meeting that challenge.”

Dr. Stewart also shared a personal story – and a core tenet he learned from his mother. When his father was overseas in the military, he said, his mother “kept me involved in programs and going to school. She believes that access creates opportunities for excellence.” That’s a lesson he never forgot, as he attended engineering fairs and summer programs, looked for mentors, signed up for internships, and otherwise pursued his education.

Dr. Ahsan Choudhuri, who grew up in Bangledesh, had a simple and powerful message for participants at the event.  Dr. Choudhuri is Chairman and Professor of Mechanical Engineering and the Director of Center for Space Exploration Research, a NASA University Research Center at the University of Texas at El Paso. He shared information about additive manufacturing, artificial intelligence and robotics, urban air mobility, hypersonics, and other subjects that will become even more prominent in the coming years.  Most of all, he offered a clear and enthusiastic message to participants in this event. “You guys are our future,” he said. “Make sure to stay in school, and don’t stop after high school.”

After the events, some of our youth shared comments with us:

“The best part of hearing from NASA is the different types of jobs people have. Hearing everyone’s job experience and coming from different ethnic groups really amazes me.”

“The best part of hearing about NASA was learning how actual chefs make the food that astronauts bring to space and that some animals were sent into space.”

“One of the best parts of hearing from NASA is they told us what it was like working there and we got to hear the speaker’s own stories”