Professors bring space to classroom through summer research at NASA Marshall Center

July 23, 2000

On the heels of Apollo 8, when humans first orbited the moon on Christmas Eve of 1968, fifth-grader Billy Hix stood up and told his rural Tennessee classmates he wanted to work for NASA.

The only son of a farmer, his announcement was considered too far-fetched, and he shelved his dream for three decades -- until his young son introduced him to a NASA research opportunity.

Today, Hix is among 44 university professors working at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., through NASA's Summer Faculty Fellowship Program. The program allows educators to conduct research for the space program while enriching their teaching skills.

In a role-reversal, Hix is following in the footsteps of his son, Kevin.

A high school sophomore, Kevin has worked with NASA to develop educational programs for his local schools, campaigned to get his local cable company to carry NASA television, and won a national competition for a proposed mission to Mars.

"Kevin has wanted to work for NASA since he was in the third grade," said Billy Hix, a professor of information systems at Motlow College in Tullahoma, Tenn. "He's the reason I'm here today."

The senior Hix has spent his summer at the Marshall Center researching Web- based technologies, including ways to help NASA support classroom teachers.

This is a natural progression for Hix. He's already used the space program to introduce his students - who are sometimes fellow teachers - to computers and new technology.

"If I'm trying to teach other educators how to build a Web page, I'll have them build a page proposing future missions to Mars," he said. "It makes it more interesting."

Each year, NASA awards fellowships to full-time engineering and science educators at U.S. colleges and universities. While furthering the professional knowledge of the participating professors, the fellowships also stimulate an exchange of ideas between educators and NASA employees.

Basil Antar was awarded his first NASA fellowship in 1974. An engineering professor from the University of Tennessee Space Institute in Tullahoma, he finds his NASA experience helpful in the classroom. "Working with scientists on a day-to-day basis is very important," he points out. "It helps you keep your finger on the pulse of what's going on."

This summer, Antar is conducting microgravity research that could lead to better fiber optics. Progress in this technology will have positive impact in the everyday lives of millions of Americans. "With better fiber optics, we can increase the speed of electronic transmissions," he said. "This could dramatically improve high-speed computers, digital videos and other types of communications."

Antar is a returning fellow to NASA's Summer Faculty Program. He's seen many technological advances during that time, including the widespread use of computers and video technology - both at NASA and in the classroom.

"Computers and video systems have really changed since my first fellowship," he said, adding that these advances have opened up new opportunities for scientific research and made education accessible to more people.

In addition to their research activities, summer fellows attend weekly seminars, courses and workshops. At the end of the summer, they present reports of their research findings to their NASA colleagues.

NASA established the fellowship program in cooperation with the American Society for Engineering Education in 1966. Since its inception, nearly 8,000 faculty members have participated at NASA facilities nationwide.

NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center News Center

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