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Students involved in STEM-focused program developed by RTI send experiments to the International Space Station

The program, called STARward STEM, uses project-based learning and space to ignite student interest in STEM education and careers

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A group of North Carolina students involved in the STARward STEM program recently traveled to Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, to see their winning design projects launched aboard a rocket destined for the International Space Station (ISS).

STARward STEM, developed and implemented by nonprofit research institute RTI International and several partners, impacts a targeted group of 4,600 K-12 students in Cumberland County Schools — North Carolina’s fifth-largest school district. The program focuses on providing equitable access to high-quality science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education opportunities for youth.

STARward STEM aims to bring project-based learning (PBL) to classrooms with a focus on space and with the goal to provide America’s future STEM leaders with enriched educational opportunities to lead in modernization, discovery and technological innovation.

“It has been a thrill to see these students to visit Cape Canaveral and engage with STEM learning in a way that transcends classroom walls over the past year,” said Frank McKay, project director for STARward STEM and an education consultant at RTI. “The ‘STAR’ in the name of the program stands for ‘Something They’ll Always Remember.’ Our theory of change is premised around the concept of providing students with STAR experiences in and out of the classroom, and this trip has lived up to that promise for these students.”

The trip to Cape Canaveral is the culmination of a design project that challenged STARward STEM students to develop experiments that have the potential to improve life in space. More than 500 students on 63 teams in grades K-12 participated in the design challenge. Students and teachers from the three winning teams participated in the Cape Canaveral trip. The winning projects were aboard the SpaceX-CRS26 rocket that launched on Nov. 26 on a re-supply mission to the ISS.

During the trip, the students had the opportunity to meet and interact with Tony Antonelli, a graduate of Cumberland County Schools who went on to become a NASA astronaut. Students will have another opportunity to participate in the STARward STEM Design Challenge this school year. They will compete for a chance to launch their experiments to the ISS aboard SpaceX-CRS28 in June 2023.

Impact Story: STARward STEM: Expanding student engagement in STEM through Space-connected project-based learning

Learn more about RTI’s Center for Education Services

Announcing the 2023 Design Challenge Finalists

View the finalists who may get their projects tested on the International Space Station as part of the STARward STEM Design Challenge in Summer 2023.

View the 2023 Finalists