The Science Leaders of Tomorrow

The Science Leaders of Tomorrow


Elementary School students launching a “CubeSat” satellite into space orbit?  I could not believe it myself until I experienced it firsthand at St. Thomas More Cathedral School (STM) in Arlington.  STM is a K-8 elementary school that is strongly focused on STEM and innovative educational programs for its students.  As part of a three-year project, students are building a “CubeSat” measuring approximately four inches long and three pounds.  Students, through hands-on work, will develop skills and experiences used in the aerospace industry. The CubeSat is scheduled to be launched by 2014 with assistance from NASA.  It will include two science payloads and a camera.  Once launched, the satellite will collect photos and data that will be used internationally for education and research purposes.

The project came about from the initiative of a parent at STM, who also happens to be an ATK employee and NASA Mission Manager.  ATK is an Arlington-based large aerospace and defense company that we’ve worked with over the years, and it was eye-opening and exciting to hear about its support of the CubeSat project and for a local Arlington school.   I am constantly amazed at the talent and skills resources in the Washington area.  Here you have a parent at STM who is also a NASA Mission Manager, and he is willing to guide the students from start-to-build-to-launch the “CubeSat”.  Normally, a “CubeSat” is built by universities and their graduate students, so it is quite remarkable that an elementary school is taking on this project.

Each of the 400 students at STM has an individual job title and a specific assignment, from quality control to mission artist.  Every student also has a deputy one grade below that will take his or her place the next year.   As an ongoing study of science and space,  the school ensures that all departments of the school incorporate space into their curriculum. The art teacher has the students drawing planets, the music teacher has them making up space songs, the gym teacher has the children inventing space dances, and their religious instructor has students writing prayers for the satellite.   The goal is to inspire children at a young age to be interested in science and engineering by providing opportunities for students to discover and apply learning to real world scenarios.

Last year, Atlantic Cities magazine named Arlington the number two Creative Class County in America. The high-tech industry is strongly associated with the Creative Class and of talent in general since “technology businesses tend to form and do well where diverse mixes of creative people have concentrated, bringing job generation and economic growth.”  Arlington and its surrounding  jurisdictions have a high concentration of technology sector employees in Scientific Research and Development, and Management, Scientific and Technical Services.  Hence, the “CubeSat” project at STM may inspire lots of young people to become the creative class workers of the future!

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