Former NASA Astronaut on a mission to expose kids to STEM

HOUSTON, Tex. (KBTX) - Over the past few years, there's been a major effort to expose and educate students in the subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics aka STEM.

This year on National STEM day, former NASA Astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison discusses how parents can help foster that interest in their children.

"It's really about our future. We count on the innovations in STEM fields to better our lives," said Dr. Jemison. "Information technologies and personalized medicine, apps and different materials, they all help to change our lives. So we need to make sure we're making that investment into the future so we can continue to advance."

Dr. Jemison has been on a mission to increase awareness about the opportunities that studying STEM can bring for students before the acronym even existed. She launched into space on September 12, 1992 as a crew member on the Space Shuttle Endeavor, a mission that earned her the distinction of being the first woman of color in the world to travel into space.

Since then, she teamed up with Bayer in 1995 for the Presidential award-winning Bayer Making Science Make Sense ® program – an initiative that advances science literacy across the United States through hands-on science learning, employee volunteerism and public education.

In an effort to make sure schools really embrace STEM earlier this week, the group put together the Bayer-Big10 Alka Rocket Challenge. This week, three groups of college students from University of Minnesota, Northwestern University and Rutgers University arrived at the Space Center in Houston, to use what they've learned over the years to try and set a Guinness world record on height for an Alka Rocket. The students who win the challenge were eligible to receive a $25,000 prize. Winners were set to be announced on Wednesday, National STEM day.

"All kids love science, they like to explore and learn about the world around them," said Dr. Jemison. "So a parent's job is to maintain that interest. You have to be willing to explore with them and give them hands on projects. Science toys, going to museums and just showing an interest in their education."

Dr. Jemison said even things like planting in the garden will help kids maintain their interest. The Stanford alumnus strongly believes that science education must tap into the innate curiosity of students and that hands-on exploration is key to science learning.