At NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on July 20, students in grades 3-12 rotated around stations with names like "climate is key," "snap circuits," "alien exploration" and "slime."
As the young minds worked through their activities, Wallops' summer interns tested their hypotheses with questions and suggestions. At the end of each 25-30 minute time period, the students had successfully completed an experiment and could reap the rewards by playing with gooey slime or turning on and off an electric circuit.
The event held from 8:30 a.m. to noon was Wallop's Inspire the Next Generation Day, put on by the education team and summer interns for Wallops NASA and Navy staff members' young children or relatives.
“They spend a day to inspire each other," Patricia Benner, NASA education specialist, said. "So, our interns are being inspired by the next generation and our next generation is being inspired by our interns who are role models they can relate to."
The annual event began as a take on the classic take-your-child-to-work day. Employees could bring sons, daughters, grandchildren and cousins to participate for free. This year's Inspire Day hosted about 57 students, Benner said.
"Students in grades 3-12 will go through interactive stations and engage in activities that showcase current NASA Wallops missions, helping children learn about NASA’s unique content and exploring careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)," according to a press release.
Benner said the interns collaborated with the education team to create a project for the young students based on their summer work. Wallops has 27 interns this summer, she said, varying from undergraduate to high school students.
Monica Daula Colon is a 21-year-old college junior from Puerto Rico majoring in mechanical engineering and minoring in aerospace. She said her dream as a child was to work for NASA and study engineering. It's now coming true through her internship.
When Daula Colon heard about Inspire Day, she was happy to participate. She worked with third-sixth grade students at the balloon rocket station. The goal was to create rockets out of balloons and attach them to a straw. The students attached the rockets to a string and let go of the end of balloon, allowing it to take off on the designated path.
“I thought (Inspire Day) was a great idea and I was really happy to do it because I would have loved to have this kind of activity (when) I was their age," she said.
Jacob Hickman is a 20-year-old college senior originally from the Eastern Shore and is majoring in engineering, physics and math at Randolph–Macon College. His activity was to show 3-6th grade students the difference between non-Newtonian fluids and Newtonian fluids.
He said Inspire Day was a great way to show young students how science can be fun.
“I think the word inspire that they picked for the title is such a great thing," he said.
For the interns, Benner said the day acted as outreach. The students could discuss what they're working on, practice public speaking skills and make community connections. For the younger students, the day acted as an opportunity to learn more about NASA and instill a passion for STEM topics.
“They see that science is fun," Benner explained. "They see that science is relevant to authentic work and projects that their parents do. ... They see all the different kinds of things that happen here.”
Tom Widmyer is a mechanical engineer at Wallops and brought his 8-year-old son to Inspire Day. He said his son is always curious about his work.
"He's decided already he wants to be an electrical engineer," Widmyer said.
Sharone Corbin is a project support specialist in the safety office at Wallops. Her son is 13 and participated in the day's activities.
Corbin said he's always curious about what she’s doing at NASA.
“It gives (the young students) ideas of what they might what to do when they grow up and gives them a piece of NASA,” she said.
For Benner, NASA always has one objective when hosting the younger generation during its educational activities.
“The ultimate goal of everything we do here is to inspire the next generation of engineers, scientists and technicians," she said.