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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Online program connects Idaho students, NASA

Admission based on state legislators’ nominations

Betsy Z. Russell, (866) 336-2854

BOISE – Bright, advanced Idaho high school juniors can now compete to get into a new online science and math course offered in partnership with NASA – in part by impressing a local state legislator.

“We would like to get state lawmakers involved in this, in endorsing students from their legislative district,” said Idaho Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath.

“Legislators would be involved in the review of applications and helping to select the students. … They’d have a big role in choosing which student goes.”

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna joined astronaut Barbara Morgan, now a distinguished educator in residence at Boise State University, to announce the new program Thursday.

It’s modeled after a similar program in Texas; Idaho is the third state to launch a Science and Aerospace Scholars Program.

Officials said the program will benefit students and raise awareness for state lawmakers.

Students who are successful in the rigorous online course, which is aligned to state education standards, could earn an expense-paid trip to a weeklong NASA academy in California next summer.

As for lawmakers, McGrath said, “The goal is to get legislators involved in this program and more involved in their local school districts and the public education system, by seeing what students are doing, what their goals are, what they’re working toward. … Also, these students are representatives of Idaho when they go to the summer academy, so we think it’s important to have our local elected officials involved.”

Morgan contacted Luna in May about setting up a NASA scholars program and convened a meeting at BSU with NASA representatives and business, education and military leaders.

Luna agreed to kick in $100,000 from the state’s Math Initiative, so the program will start this school year, with the 10-week online class starting in January.

McGrath said the department is “looking for other funding sources, like grants and things like that, for future years.”

The Texas High School Aerospace Scholars, the basis for Idaho’s new program, also is for high school juniors who are nominated by their state legislators and have an interest in math, science, engineering or computer science.

Virginia has a similar program, also modeled after the Texas one, which was developed by NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

In all three programs, the course work for the students is aligned to the state’s education standards.