In Our Own Words

The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program is designed to be a keystone U.S. National STEM education initiative. In their own words, from teachers, students, administrators, and funding organizations, here is what this program has meant to the participating communities—


In Our Own Words Essays at the SSEP National Blog

Right Place, Right Time
Dr. Barrett Caldwell, Director, Indiana Space Grant Consortium
(Barrett attended the launch of the SpaceX Dragon, May 22, 2012, carrying the SSEP Mission 1 to ISS Aquarius payload)

Crown Point, Indiana: What Does it Mean to Reach for the Stars?
Amanda Arceo, SSEP Community Program Director, Lake County, IN

Why I Wanted to be a NASA Space Grant Director
Dr. Barrett Caldwell, Director, Indiana Space Grant Consortium

Lincolnwood, IL: Let them taste, smell, and feel the journey that is science! Thank you SSEP
Sharon Churchwell, SSEP Community Program Director, Lincolnwood, IL

Broward County, Florida: This is real, practical learning at its best
Lenecia McCrary, SSEP Community Program Director, Broward County, FL

Zachary Louisiana: Science Became the Language of Zachary
Circe Bridges, Teacher Facilitator for STS-134 flight experiment, Zachary, LA

Hartford, Connecticut: Transforming Teachers Through Inquiry, One Teacher’s Story
Sheri Tanner, Literacy Coach, and Rachael Manzer, SSEP Community Program Director, Hartford, Connecticut



How do you describe what SSEP has meant to Interlake School Division‘s Gr 5/6 kids, all 450 of them and the division overall? EPIC MOTIVATION & INSPIRATION to be the best student scientist ambassadors for Canada & the world. The program has meant a monumental shift in thinking about science and its future impacts. Our kids have dreamt huge dreams of cures, treatments, and solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges: disease, health promotion, hunger, food production, waste reduction and innovative fuel sources. It has impacted the way they view science, engineering, technology and math in an exhilarating and captivating way. It has paired kids with each other to work towards a common goal: be the best real scientist you can be and work hard to be better, challenge each other, cooperate together, be leaders and become leaders, strive for greatness and work as a team of cohesive learners and goal setters. The awe-inspiring emotions felt here is like the excitement felt when Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon in the Apollo mission. Simply put it has been MAGICAL!
—Maria Nickel, Woodlands Elementary Middle Years Science Coordinator
SSEP Community Program Director, Interlake School Division
Stonewall, Manitoba, Canada

The NASA Maryland Space Grant Consortium has been delighted to provide support for two Maryland school districts, one on STS-134 and one on STS-135. Providing this kind of life-changing opportunity to students is what keeps up energized to come to work every morning. We have been reading your posts and love the enthusiasm.

—Terry Teays, PhD.
Assistant Director, Maryland Space Grant Consortium
Johns Hopkins University

I have been an educator for 27 years, and have never had an experience like this one. It has been very exciting. Being part of this program has allowed me to work with students outside the classroom and see their excitement in learning science for the love of the subject. I have had the opportunity to work with an awesome group of students, educators, industry (people form PerkinElmer), and the media. The support of the Shelton Public Schools has been great.

—Mary Clark, Shelton High School Science Curriculum Leader
Shelton, Connecticut

This research experience has simply been incredible. Researching possible topics to study, competing for grant money and a space on Endeavour, and actually conducting the experiment has truly been an experience like none other; this STEM initiative forces students to think critically, hypothesize, and analyze data. We are truly appreciative of this experience and of all that has been offered to us. We appreciate all the support we have received from the community and the school system. I think it’s great that students are being introduced to science at such a young age. We are now analyzing our data and our preliminary findings do show some differences between the bacteria grown on Earth and in Space. Thank you, SSEP!

—Omar Sobh 12th grader at Shelton High School and SSEP Flight Experiment Winner
Shelton, Connecticut

SSEP allowed our students to be apart of Endeavour’s last mission. This is something we will remember and treasure for the rest of our lives.

—Lenecia McCrary, Magnet Coordinator, Crystal Lake Middle School
SSEP Community Program Director, Broward County, Florida

What an awe-inspiring experience to see the brightest of students, the most invested teachers and parents, a very persistent and dedicated NCESSE director and staff, and generous donors in the Space Flight community come together to take everyday learning and transform it into one of the greatest learning opportunities of a lifetime. I am amazed at the energy and momentum that has prevailed throughout the entire SSEP experience by all of those involved, and I am confident that our students have gained valuable tools and life lessons that will help them continue to exceed the boundaries in learning.

—Allison Spencer, Canyons School District Education Foundation, Utah

SSEP is the best real life application program that my students have ever experienced!

—Alison Thammovongsa, 7th grade science teacher, Peoria Unified School District
SSEP Community Program Director, Peoria, Arizona

From the beginning, I recognized what a wonderful opportunity SSEP would be for our students. It has been a joy to see how animated and engaged they were through each step of this journey. The students that have participated in SSEP have not only greatly increased their knowledge of specific scientific content and scientific methodologies, but they have increased confidence which is exhibited through their communications with fellow students, teachers and even professors at the universities that we have visited. Our ability to participate in SSEP has been a gift to our students and all educators who have helped facilitate this project. And we are all eagerly awaiting the Shuttle Atlantis’ last launch.

—Amanda Arceo, Principal, Avicenna Academy
SSEP Community Program Director, Crown Point, Indiana

This whole thing is so unbelievable. We are doing real science research that really matters. What we design will really fly in space aboard the very last space shuttle mission. This could be a life-changer for me. It is something that I will someday tell my grandkids about. How cool!

—Isaac Jepsen, Senior, Ridge View High School, Galva-Holstein, Iowa

The experience is awe-inspiring. What a fantastic opportunity to exhibit the strength of our students, school system, and nation.

—Scott Hangey, Director of Science Instruction and Program Development
Charles County Public Schools

SSEP Community Program Co-Director, Charles County, Maryland

Per aspera ad astra is a Latin phrase which means “Through hardships to the stars”. Once a motto for NASA, it is now proudly emboldened on the tee-shirts of students, parents, families, teachers, administrators, and supporters of the Bridgewater-Raritan High School community who will attend the final and historic mission of the space shuttle program. These words truly capture the passion and dedication of a community that believes great things can be achieved through hard work, perseverance and the power of human collaboration.

—Jorge Valdes, Science Teacher, Bridgewater-Raritan High School
SSEP Community Program Director, Bridgewater-Raritan, New Jersey

It is not often that an opportunity like SSEP comes along, with such an opportunity to create a lasting legacy for students, communities, and the nation. As the Director of the Indiana Space Grant Consortium, I am honored and humbled to support this worthy addition to Indiana’s legacy of spaceflight and exploration; as someone who has had a passion for space since I was six, I am excited for, and in awe of, what the students from Avicenna Academy in Crown Point are accomplishing so early in their lives.

—Barrett S. Caldwell, Ph.D.
Professor, Schools of Industrial Engineering / Aeronautics & Astronautics
Director, Indiana Space Grant Consortium
Purdue University

We are so proud that our students have gotten a chance to participate in this historic final space shuttle flight. It has been an inspiring journey for our entire school community and has fostered a more accurate understanding of scientific inquiry than could have been gotten from any other lesson.

—Kori Milroy, Science Teacher, Skinner West Classical, Fine Arts, & Technology School
Chicago Public Schools

SSEP Community Program Director, Chicago, Illinois

The NASA Nebraska Space Grant is proud to have students engaged from across Nebraska in this exciting program. No other program provides as much inspiration for middle school and high school students to pursue STEM careers.

—Michaela Lucas, Associate Director, NASA Nebraska Space Grant

onnecting students with space shuttle missions will help inspire the next generation of scientists. The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program is a fantastic realization of this great opportunity, and I’m thrilled that our students and staff are a part of it.
—Superintendent Carole Smith, Portland Public Schools, Portland, OR

This might be the best experience I have ever had. The opportunity to work with others that enjoy science as much as I do was great. It opened my eyes to how the scientific method is used in real life. This has shown me that if you work as a team and bounce ideas off each other you can accomplish anything.

—Alex A., Grade 8, Mendenhall MS, Guilford County, Greensboro, NC

(Alex was the lead researcher for our winning proposal:)

The entire Ballston Spa community and our corporate partners at GLOBALFOUNDRIES celebrate the participation of our students in this national spaceflight project and the selection of the finalists who will have their experiment on the space shuttle flight. This type of collaboration and learning is an example of what needs to take place in schools to engage students in the skills necessary to be successful in their future education and the workplace of the 21st Century.
—Superintendent of Schools Joseph P. Dragone, Ph.D., Ballston Spa, NY

We are excited to be a part of this historic opportunity to promote STEM education in our community by engaging students, teachers, and community members in this high profile science competition. The spirit of innovation and exploration that helped propel our country into space is still alive in this region and we’re honored to be a part of inspiring the next generation of scientists, technicians, engineers and mathematicians who will take us to new frontiers.

Norm Armour, GLOBALFOUNDRIES’ Vice President and General Manager of Fab 8

The integration of the SSEP into our schools this fall has had a very positive impact on the students in the school district, specifically the increase in their scientific curiosity and the development of real world skills. Students have indicated that their “participation was a wonderful chance to learn proper experimental procedures” and that “it was a lot of work to research and design a proposal, but definitely worth it”. One of our finalists indicated that she “wants to be a scientist when she grows up and was really hoping to have her experiment chosen” for spaceflight.
Diane Irwin, SSEP Community Program Director, K-12 Science Coordinator, Ballston Spa, NY

This was a great experience and it really illustrates the fact that anything is possible when you have the right people around you, the right resources … and you work hard.
—Clay Hering, Grade 7, Mendenhall MS, Guilford County, Greensboro, NC

hank you for providing such an inspiring and enriching program for both our students and teachers! In an essay one of my students wrote: “I am young, I am small, but I am a scientist all the same.” Our school’s participation in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) provided our students the opportunity to engage in “real life” science.

Christa McAuliffe one said, “I touch the future. I teach.” The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program allowed me, and our teachers, the opportunity to do BOTH: See and touch the future while in the present – here and now!
—Dr. Anne Albright, NBCT 6th Grade Science Teacher, Science Department Chair, Maitland Middle School, Orange County, FL







The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) is a program of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) in the U.S., and the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education internationally. It is enabled through a strategic partnership with DreamUp PBC and NanoRacks LLC, which are working with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory. SSEP is the first pre-college STEM education program that is both a U.S. national initiative and implemented as an on-orbit commercial space venture.