Hundreds of middle school and high school students from the Yakama Nation will have the chance to peer into space or learn the basics of rocket flight during a daylong festival involving scientists from the University of Washington, the Washington NASA Space Grant Consortium and other institutions.
From 200 to 400 students are expected at the Yakama Nation Blast-Off Fest on Saturday (Sept. 8) in Toppenish, Wash. They will examine concepts involved with flight, from shooting arrows to launching water rockets and Estes Rockets, and they will use special solar telescopes to get a close-up look at the sun.
The Pacific Science Center in Seattle will bring its Space Odyssey program, which includes two portable planetariums and a hands-on exhibit that will help students make sense of the seasons or let them explore the planets and other constellations.
“It’s a chance for kids to see science in ways they don’t usually see it, but then also to interact with those behind the science to figure out if this is of interest to them,” said Robert Winglee, chairman of Earth and space sciences at UW and Space Grant director for the state.
The event is a collaboration of the Yakama Nation Land Enterprise, Yakama Power, the UW’s Indigenous Wellness Research Institute and Space Grant. Other participants are Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Northwest Indian College in Bellingham and the Pacific Science Center.
The Washington NASA Space Grant Consortium started in 1989, in part to enhance higher education opportunities for students interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and to improve elementary and secondary education in those areas statewide. This is the first time Space Grant has taken an initiative to the Yakama Nation.
“It is part of our mandate to create a pipeline of students into higher education. This helps us to augment a pipeline in a much-needed area,” Winglee said. “Our goal is to have more kids participating and seeing that science can be important in their lives, that it can be a career path for them.”
The event will feature five UW faculty and staff members and 10 UW graduate and undergraduate students working with the Yakama students and showing them potential opportunities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
Rocket demonstrations will be limited to low altitudes, but Winglee hopes to return later for a session just with high school students, when they can work with high-power rockets that can reach altitudes of a mile.
Polly Olsen, community relations and development director for the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute and a Yakama Nation member, said the event aligns well with the institute’s Native Youth Enrichment Program.
“It’s developing opportunities for the kids, and it’s also us figuring a way to bring them to campus and show them the opportunities college can provide,” she said.
“We hope a play day like this can make a small change in the way the kids look at education, the way they look at science, that it’s important to finish school,” Olsen said.
Students from five area schools are being invited to the event, which is scheduled to run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. Rocket building and launch will be on property at the junction of Yost and Robbins roads in Toppenish, and a science showcase will be held at Toppenish High School.