Summer is such a wonderful time of year—especially for our young people. School is out, the sun is shining—it’s time for less work, more play. Well you know that saying about too much of a good thing not being such a good thing? That theory applies to summer in some ways. Research shows that during the summer most students become victims of “summer slide”—the loss of academic skills that students gained during the school year. This slide appears to be even more pronounced for underserved and underperforming students and for those, such as girls and minorities, who are underrepresented in science and engineering professions. So how do we combat this problem? I have a plan.
Today at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA will kick off a new project called the Summer of Innovation, which supports the President’s Educate to Innovate campaign. This is NASA’s first initiative supporting intensive STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—summer learning opportunities for middle school students and teachers, with a particular focus on students who are underrepresented, underserved and underperforming in STEM. NASA is in a unique position to make this program successful, and at the same time, fun for the students. And when these students and teachers go back to school in the fall, NASA plans to be right there with them! Through direct interaction with our many missions and programs—together with the experts who run them—we’ll continue to convey the excitement of STEM learning and the marvelous opportunities that lie ahead for those who get engaged in it.
This is important to me! Education is a passion of mine, and you might say “I got it honestly”. I was born and raised in Columbia, SC, and my parents were public school teachers. That’s not an easy profession. The hours are long and the wages are modest, yet despite this, they loved each and every day of their work. They made the hard choice to remain in public education because they knew it was their opportunity to inspire thousands of students and to give them the foundation they would need to take their places in national, state, and local leadership. So it was my parents’ dedication that instilled in me this deep and personal passion for education.
But aside from my passion about education, there’s a more practical reason to advocate STEM learning. There is a crisis in this country that comes from the gap between our growing need for scientists, engineers, and other technically skilled workers, and our available supply. This crisis in education, if not resolved, will contribute to future declines in the number of qualified employees to meet demands in critical career fields that affect U.S. global competitiveness and the national economy. As the President has wisely noted, “The country that out-educates us today will out-compete us tomorrow.” Through the Summer of Innovation project, we at NASA want to inspire kids to get involved, to learn and to be part of an exciting and meaningful career path—and we have just the tools to do that. This is an exciting endeavor, and I promise you that these students and teachers will have access to NASA’s best and brightest to help ensure a successful Summer of Innovation experience.
I have said this before—NASA inspires the next generation through our compelling missions, but we must do more. We will continue to move things to the next level by directly engaging students in dynamic STEM activities that form the basis of our work. When students can get involved directly with NASA's missions in all their diversity, they just might take that next step to join us and take part in the nation's future in exploration. But we cannot do this alone. The Summer of Innovation will be a broad, nationwide program that leverages partnerships from many sectors—academia, industry and government. Together we will make a differenceby providing stimulating, relevant learning for our middle schoolers this summer. I look forward to the great things we will accomplish as we embark on this exciting journey.
Charlie Bolden is the Administrator of NASA