NASA pilot program begins partnership with Los Fresnos CISD

Twenty-two Los Fresnos CISD juniors will engage in interactive lessons about space exploration, aeronautics, earth science, technology, mathematics, and more in the NASA High School Aerospace Scholars (HAS) program.

For the last two decades, Texas high school juniors have participated in the program. This year, HAS has a new partner – the Texas A&M Engineering Spark! PK-12 Education Outreach program through the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES).

As part of the new partnership, Spark! developed a pilot program at Los Fresnos CISD where Texas A&M Engineering staff will work directly with Los Fresnos CISD to support students and teachers participating in HAS. There are 22 students and three teachers involved in the 2020-21 HAS program at LFHS.

During HAS, students complete various design challenges and have virtual chats with NASA engineers and scientists. The highest-achieving students are invited to participate in a five-day gamified virtual experience, HAS Moonshot, where they are mentored by NASA engineers and scientists who encourage students to continue to pursue STEM-related degrees leading to careers in those fields. Top teams from HAS Moonshot are invited to spend two days at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

For the pilot program, Texas A&M Engineering Spark! will coordinate college visits with schools that are part of the Texas A&M University System and invite families to a HAS showcase event in Los Fresnos. The Spark! team will also have the opportunity to introduce all 943 HAS participants to the STEM-related degree opportunities at Texas A&M.

“We are looking forward to supporting the HAS participants in Los Fresnos and encouraging the students to not only successfully complete the program but also to consider pursuing a STEM-related degree culminating in a successful STEM career,” said Shelly Tornquist, director of the Spark! program.

One of the ways the pilot program will encourage students to follow their dreams is by providing a student engagement award of $1,000 to Los Fresnos CISD students who successfully complete the full program. The award can be used at any higher education campus. 

“If the three-year pilot program with Los Fresnos proves successful, we may be able to expand and partner with additional school districts in the future,” Tornquist said. “Ultimately, we want to encourage the students and help provide resources so those who have aspirations of being engineers and scientists are able to follow those dreams.”

This HAS pilot program in Los Fresnos is made possible by general revenue appropriated to TEES from the Texas Legislature during its 2019 regular session and direct guidance to TEES from Johnson Space Center, as a joint partnership with the mutual goal of educating more students in STEM disciplines that will hopefully yield a future workforce able to support NASA missions.