St. Barnabas teacher Megan Schaller earns a trip to NASA through her STEM promotion
Careers in Science, Engineering, Technology and Math (STEM) are in high demand. For St. Barnabas Catholic School teacher Megan Schaller, it’s a subject she’s passionate about teaching and sharing.
“STEM is not a buzzword in the educational field,” she said. “This is where our job market is going. As a country, we need to compete on this global economic platform. Not only is it something I love, it’s relevant and important right now.”
That passion about STEM earned Schaller a trip to NASA on April 17 to 18, where she got behind-the-scenes access to the space center and a close-up viewing of the rocket launch for the Orbital ATK CRS-7 cargo resupply mission.
Schaller has taught at St. Barnabas for four years. She was hired as a 6th grade science and social studies teacher.
“I didn’t realize how much I loved science until I got to teaching it three times a day,” she said. “When it came to the solar system, earth space science, I was lost in it.”
Two years ago, she and two other St. Barnabas teachers, Ryan Schnarr and Doug Bauman, were accepted into the STEM Trustey Fellows through Notre Dame University’s Center for STEM Education. In this three-year program, math and science teachers from across the country come together for two weeks of each year for professional development.
Since then, the three teachers have worked to make St. Barnabas “the STEM school.” They have created an impact plan, with which they want to educate parents and students about the availability of careers in this field.
Once a month, the school has special STEM days. Each grade level does a full STEM lesson, taking two or more “letters” and using them in the same lesson.
This school year, St. Barnabas had its first Family STEM Night, offering mini STEM lessons, building robots, paper airplanes and more.
“We had more people than we were expecting,” Schaller said. “It was packed from beginning to the end.”
The teachers reach out to the community, educating about the STEM efforts, through the school newsletter and the school’s social media. Schaller said they weren’t quite sure, though, how much that word was getting out among the other things St. Barnabas does.
Feb. 21, Schaller was sitting at home, browsing Instagram, when she came across NASA Social, a program in which NASA’s social media followers can earn opportunities to be included in NASA events. The deadline to apply for the March shuttle launch was that night.
“At first I closed my computer and walked away,” Schaller said. “Realistically, it’s about people with Youtube channels, people with thousands of followers. I have Twitter but can’t tell you how to use it. But I couldn’t walk away.”
She applied, was first waitlisted and then accepted. Instead of posting about it through her personal pages, she created The Stemstronaut on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. This allowed the public to follow her experience as she went.
The launch was supposed to take place on March 17 to 19. It was postponed multiple times before the date was rescheduled for April 18. She flew to Florida on Easter and reported to the Astronaut Training Experience the following morning.
“It was amazing,” Schaller said. “It was a lot more behind-the-scenes stuff. Normally the groups are 50 people. This one was closer to 25 to 30. It was a much smaller group and you could be much more involved.”
The first day, she visited the Vehicle Assembly Building, the tallest one-story building at 55 1/2 stories tall. Then they had a Q&A with the Commercial Crew followed by a visit to NASA TV where they met
with engineers, project managers and head scientists about the rocket. One of Schaller’s questions to an engineer was featured as a clip of the press conference online: around the 45 minute-mark.
Then they ventured over to view the rocket.
“It was impressive,” she said. “We were about 1,000 feet away from the launch pad, which was incredibly close. It was smaller than I thought it was going to be. To see it 12 hours away from the launch as a civilian, to be that close, was cool.”
The next morning, the NASA Social participants went to watch the launch, viewed more machinery and had opportunities to speak with more representatives.
“I can’t believe we did all of that in two days,” Schaller said. In real time, she was posting her experience to Instagram and Twitter, then giving longer explanations on Facebook in the evening.
Now that she’s back home, Schaller said she looks forward to the last of the STEM Trustey Fellows taking place this summer. The school has another STEM day on May 12, in which she plans to take the materials from her NASA experience and present it to the students.
“I will continue to post pictures of these students doing all of these amazing experiments,” she said. “I’m sure everyone has heard the word STEM, but I want to bring it in a more concrete, visual way. They didn’t just build something that takes a good picture. They used all of these skills. This has been a great catalyst to open up a new way to connect with people outside of the school. This is what St. Barnabas is doing and we will continue to do it.”