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East Haven students enjoyed a field trip to Southern Connecticut State University where they attended a forum featuring NASA scientists and several noteworthy astronomers. (Photo courtesy of Mike Cassone )
NASA representative Jennifer Stern addressed students at a Nov. 16 presentation at Southern Connecticut State University. (Photo courtesy of Mike Cassone )
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More than a dozen East Haven High School (EHHS) students had the opportunity to attend a presentation—Missions Possible: A Manned Flight to Mars, & Finding “New Earths” in the Milky Way Galaxy—at Southern Connecticut State University.
While astronomy isn’t offered at EHHS, two of the science department’s teachers, Mike Cassone and James Newton, were quick to take advantage of the invitation to the forum at Southern.
“This was an opportunity that came across our desks and we were eager as educators to go. We didn’t want an opportunity like this to slip by,” said Cassone, a freshman science teacher who teachers physical science and pre-engineering. “We brought those who expressed interest—freshmen to seniors—and who are naturally interested in science.”
One of those students was senior Sarah Harkins. She has always had an interest in science, noting her mother is a former chemistry teacher.
“It’s been in my blood and I’ve always loved astronomy,” said Harkins, who is taking physics this year. “It was really interesting. They had a lot of astronomers, people who work for NASA, and different experts for different fields.”
Steve Howell and Jennifer Stern, representing NASA, discussed the Kepler Mission, in which NASA is seeking to identify Earth-like plants outside of our solar system, as well as the possibility of humans exploring Mars.
There was also some discussion about The Martian, a book by Andy Weir that was made into a movie. Cassone noted that when asked, about half of the audience had read the book or seen the movie.
“The two scientists from NASA very much enjoyed the film and how it portrayed the challenges that a manned mission to Mars would face,” said Cassone. “They found it to be very realistic. This is not science fiction anymore. This is going to be reality in a high school student’s lifetime. NASA believes within 30 to 50 years, it’s a reasonable expectation.”
Other speakers included three astronomers: Elliott Horch, professor of physics at Southern and an astrophysicist who developed a telescopic device that has been used during the Kepler Mission; Jim Fullmer, associate professor of earth science at Southern who has a background in both meteorology and astronomy; and Tabetha Boyajian, post-doctoral fellow at Yale University and a member of the citizen astronomy organization, the Planet Hunters.
After the forum, the students were treated to lunch and were given a tour of Southern’s new science building. While the content of the lecture was important, Cassone saw the field trip as a larger opportunity for students to see the possibilities that await them.
“They were given a chance to see the brand new science and chemistry building and see the programs Southern can offer,” said Cassone. “As we walked out, they saw it said NHSTC—New Haven State Teaching College. The roots of the school were for teachers, but now the programs are so much different and far-reaching.”
Harkins plans to study something in the medical field, health science, or nursing when she heads off to college next year, knowing she will need a heavy science background. She is grateful for opportunities such as this to expand her horizons.
“It really benefits our education because you tie in what you’re learning through reading materials and in the classroom with real life experience that takes place in every day life,” said Harkins. “It was great getting out there and seeing what careers can come out of it and what we could possibly be.”
Cassone sees a very similar benefit to expanding education beyond the classroom. He noted that the panelists encouraged those interested in astronomy to get a telescope, look at the sky, and join a local stargazing group.
“Any chance that a kid can get to see something meaningful and relevant can be the one thing that triggers a great interest or a career,” said Casson. “It’s not often that you get experts from a government space agency to come 15 minutes down the road from your high school to talk about what they do every day. It was a great opportunity.”
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