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November 25, 2014

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NASA engineer ignites passion for science

TRACY Drain, systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, journeyed from her home in Pasadena, California to Shanghai, where she sat alongside biology teacher and 2011 Montana Teacher of the Year, Paul Anderson, in front of a group of eager student scientists at Concordia. Johnathan Chen, president of the National Science Honor Society, addressed the panel with a simple yet direct query: “Why Science?”

Both guests spoke of how they were intrigued by science from a young age and how through engagement their interest grew into a passion that led them to their respective careers.

Drain’s love of science took her to NASA, where she and her husband Ted have worked on many projects, including the Juno mission to Jupiter. She elucidated on her work on the Juno mission, expressing to her captivated audience the achievements and limitations of modern space research and technology.

Anderson followed his passion for science to the high school classroom, where he has spent the last 19 years cultivating in his students a passion for science. For the past three years, Anderson has been a YouTube superstar whose popular science tutorials are used by millions of teachers and students around the world. His videos aim to present knowledge in a form that both teaches and excites would-be scientists to be more engaged in their education.

When discussing science education, Anderson and Drain extol the benefits of taking a hands-on approach. Drain advocates the incorporation of visuals in the learning process, explaining that “it really helps with comprehension, instead of simply memorizing.” As a student, she found engineering very theoretical and longed for hands-on experience, which she no doubt found at NASA.

Anderson comments on today’s education system, critiquing the failure of some schools to foster genuine passion for learning. “I think kids are all interested in science, but I think that high school sort of drains out that interest from them, so it’s pretty sad,” he notes regretfully. Anderson urges educators to find ways to peak their students’ interest and get them involved in their own learning.

Concordia was privileged to host such esteemed scientists and hear about their exciting work. Both Drain and Anderson spent time working closely with students during Science Week, answering their questions and fully engaging with them.

(Karis Tai is a Grade 11 student at Concordia.)


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