Science teacher Virginia Casbourne recently received unusual career development training: taking two simulated space missions as an astronaut trainee. During her stint at the Space Academy, Casbourne was responsible for relaying messages between the “space shuttle” and “mission control.”
A teacher at the Howard P. Owens Science Center in Lanham, Casbourne was one of 210 educators from around the world who participated in Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.
“It was an amazing experience,” Casbourne, 45, said of the program, which combines professional development with astronaut training. “They help you become immersed in the science and technology of what we’re teaching and why.
“What was very cool about that was I also got to participate in EVA, or extra-vehicular activities. That’s where we’d gear up in a spacesuit and try to perform some sort of task, like trying to fix equipment, that you would perform outside the capsule,” Casbourne said.
Casbourne said the experience will help her better teach the sciences of space exploration to her students. “That’s our last great frontier to explore,” Casbourne said.
The Owens Science Center is a Prince George’s County public schools property that hosts students from county schools for science programs.
Casbourne said she received an e-mail about the astronaut program and decided to apply. The program is sponsored by Honeywell International, a New Jersey technology and manufacturing firm. Honeywell’s employees and sponsors pay the tuition and travel expenses for the teachers.
“As a leading technology and manufacturing corporation, Honeywell understands the importance of STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] education and its impact on the global economy,” said Kerry Kennedy, director of Honeywell Hometown Solutions, the company’s corporate citizenship arm.
Hundreds of educators applied, Kennedy said. Casbourne said she was one of six from Maryland and the only one from Prince George’s County public schools.
Kennedy said a rigorous review is used to select the candidates. “We accept the top teachers who would like to learn new and innovative ways to inspire their students to pursue careers in science and engineering,” she said.
Treesa Elam-Respass, an Owens Science Center instructional supervisor, said Casbourne’s experience will assist the center in improving its Challenger Learning Center spacecraft and mission-control simulator program “and will allow us to improve and upgrade our STEM lessons and family science nights with new ideas and space laboratory activities.”
Casbourne said students often question the relevancy of science and math lessons.
“Students say to you all the time, ‘How am I going to use this?’ ” Casbourne said. “When you have these experiences yourself, you can make it much more exciting and relevant for your students.”