NASA engineers encourage Indigenous youth to reach for the stars

Kids on Stoney Nakoda First Nation are looking to the stars for their future careers, after a series of workshops with NASA engineers.

After Skyping with a Costa Rican engineer during a NASA-themed class, students at Stoney Nakoda Elementary gave thanks to the presenter in their native language.

They had the opportunity meet the author of the book, To the Stars: Costa Rica in NASA, and some of the engineers it featuresBruce Callow is from Calgary but is now based in Central America.

He arranged for some of the engineers featured in his book to speak with the students about pursuing future careers in the field of space.

"They're pretty young right now, but I think within a few years they'll have something to look back on," Callow said. "We'd like to see more opportunities for Indigenous people in space and science."

Callow does space education work on behalf of NASA and organized the First Nations outreach project. The students are working on a space-themed play to honour Canadian retired astronaut Chris Hadfield, and Callow offered to help with his NASA workshops.

The workshops aim to encourage Indigenous youth and open doors for opportunity while reaching for the stars.

"The kids just jumped in with all their questions, and it was really amazing how excited they were. I've never seen a workshop so dynamic and rambunctious," Callow said. "We couldn't stop the questions because they prepared so much, and that's really a credit to their teacher."

The presentations introduce kids to 12 people who come from a different country. They get to learn a bit about Costa Rica, and then hear directly from one of the NASA engineers from the book, he said.

The presenters shared their journey to becoming NASA engineers, with students getting the opportunity to ask questions.

"The presentation is to outline how the people in this book overcame really serious poverty and cases of abuse while growing up on the wrong side," Callow said. "But despite all of that, they managed to get where they are."

Karl Harter

Alfredo Valverde, guidance and control analyst at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, was one of the presenters.  

"Definitely, if you have exciting goals, there's methods or ways of getting there, and I think that's kind of the message I like spreading," he said.

Valverde met Callow in Costa Rica through a common friend to collaborate on the book. He offered to help carry out a First Nations outreach project to spread a universal message.

"The message is a feeling of empowerment, that no matter where you come from, no matter what your background is, you can work for it."

"The idea is to focus on captivating a child's mind and shape their futures," the engineer said.

The next workshop has been set for May 3 at the Stoney Nakoda Elementary in Morley.