Graduate Fellows 2012

Graduate Research Fellows
Blount, Seafha

Blount, Seafha

Seafha is a Yurok tribal member and a PhD student in Natural Resources Studies with a minor in American Indian Studies. She has worked as a Learning Center Instructor at Ha:san Preparatory and Leadership School (“Ha:san”), a Native American charter school in Tucson, for three years. Her outreach project involves both Ha:san and Klamath River Early College (KRECR), a charter school on the Yurok reservation.  Through her experiences at Ha:san and by living on the Yurok reservation, she has gained insight into teaching Native American students in a culturally relevant atmosphere and is familiar with the extremely adverse circumstances many Native American students face.

One significant limiting factor in preparing high school students for college programs and careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields is the difficulty for teachers to incorporate innovative technology in their curricula. Beyond challenges to widespread incorporation of innovative technology in high schools, charter schools that serve a majority of Native Americans are at an extreme disadvantage in accessing those technologies.  Native Americans are severely underrepresented in college enrollment, especially in STEM fields. In addition, while there is a very large volume of literature about the potential success of teaching science with respect to Native American culture, little of it is based in schools and other contexts that focus on Indigenous learners and their communities.

Seafha is working with students at KRECR and Ha:san to teach them about spatial technologies used in natural resources management, such as air quality, water quality, wildlife and fisheries monitoring. There is a strong focus on the link between culture, place, natural resources, and community health. During the summer of 2011, Seafha coordinated a workshop with various activities, including Geographic Information Systems (GIS), compass and map navigation, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and telemetry. In hands-on exercises, the students were able to demonstrate that they had learned how to use these technologies.  Partners included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Yurok Tribe Environmental Program, and Yurok Tribe Education Department. She will introduce similar activities to the Ha:san students in Phase 1 of her outreach project.  In Phase 2, she will work with each school’s science teacher to modify the activities such that they can be incorporated into lesson plans.

This outreach project serves NASA’s major educational goals by aiming to attract and retain students in STEM disciplines.  It continues NASA’s tradition of investing in education and supporting educators who play a vital role in preparing, inspiring, exciting, encouraging, and nurturing our future workforce.

Kahn-Thornbrugh, Casey

Kahn-Thornbrugh, Casey

Wuneekeesuk! (Good day!)  My name is Casey Kahn-Thornbrugh and I am a Mashpee Wampanoag tribal member from Massachusetts.  My family relocated to Albuquerque, New Mexico when I was in middle school, and I have lived in New Mexico and Arizona ever since.  I have always been interested in weather, landscapes, and human cultures across Earth.  This is the primary reason why I chose geography, with a focus on climate science, as my primary discipline of study.  I am currently a Ph.D. student in the School of Geography and Development at the University of Arizona. 

For my NASA Space Grant project, I am working with the Water Resources Department of the Tohono O’odham Nation, Tohono O’odham Community College (TOCC), and the Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) project to develop a culturally relevant climate science curriculum for Tohono O’odham K-12 and tribal college students.  I will be surveying and interviewing community members and teachers on the Tohono O’odham Nation to learn about the aspects of weather and climate they feel are most important in their lives and for Tohono O’odham students to learn about.  I will be developing the curriculum with the information from the surveys and guidance from the Water Resources Department, TOCC, and CLIMAS.  Over the next year, this curriculum will be piloted through weather and climate teaching workshops offered in communities on the Tohono O’odham Nation.  The output product will be a climate science curriculum that will be given to the Tohono O’odham Nation to be used to teach K-12 and tribal college students.

I was motivated to do this project after my three years of teaching geography and science classes at TOCC and from working with Tohono O’odham youth during summer science and agriculture-based camps out on the nation.  In my experience, teaching science in ways that relate to people’s lives and culture makes science easier and more enjoyable for people to learn.  In this way, I feel my project strongly contributes to NASA’s mission of attracting more students from underrepresented communities to participate in science.

Ong, Lissa

Ong, Lissa

I am a 5th year graduate student in the Department of Planetary Sciences studying impact craters on the Moon, Mars, and Mercury.  I love both communicating science and teaching others to explore science on their own.  I was fortunate as a student to have teachers who provided opportunities to explore space science and encouraged my interest in the sciences.  It is extremely important to me to provide these same opportunities to students not only in high school, but also at a younger age when students have no preconceived notions about the difficulty of science.  A 2006 study published in Science Magazine shows that scientific interest at a young age is a better predictor of majoring in science in college than mathematical ability.

For my Space Grant outreach project, I will develop lesson plans for 1st-3rd grade students that make planetary science interactive and relevant with a hands-on approach for analyzing images of planetary surfaces.  A major component of this project is the vast database of NASA images of the surface of Earth, Mars, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, and the icy satellites of Jupiter and Saturn.  With continuing NASA missions such as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mercury Messenger, students can participate in current, ongoing science. 

My lesson plans will help students explore the major geologic processes on solid planet surfaces: impact cratering, tectonics, and volcanism.  First, I will familiarize students with satellite images and the appearance of planetary surface from space.  Students will then learn basic classification techniques to group surface features into the three different processes. I will tie these processes to hands-on activities in the classroom that explore how these features are formed.  Lessons will also include activities for image analysis, such as crater counting and surface mapping.  By the end of the three units, students will be able to recognize and classify surface features, and qualitatively describe how they form.  Early exposure to the planetary sciences will help young students develop a basic awareness of and interest in space science that they will carry throughout their lives, share new knowledge with family and friends, and help produce a new generation of space scientists.

Osman, Ismail

Osman, Ismail

My name is Ismail Osman and I’m originally from Somalia (East Africa) and currently naturalized US citizen.  I have always been interested in engineering technology and that is the primary reason why I chose and earned an engineering degree (BS) at College of Optical science and Engineering (University of Arizona).

My family and I immigrated to US in 1998 as part of the United Nation refugee resettlement program. I’m a 2nd year dual Master of Science (MS) student at College of optical Science majoring in (Photonics Communication Engineering) and Management information system majoring in (Database Management and Business Intelligent, Eller).

For my NASA Space Grant project (OSIRIS-Rex) duties:

  • Developed and designed iPad survey database application using Filemaker pro 12 software that can be used to survey participants in OSIRIS-REx Public Outreach program.
  • Implanted MySQL database with PHP for the internal team website and updated the main Drupal website.
  • Compile results from iPad surveys and provide a weekly analysis report on results.
  • Proofread all our printed, posted, and other materials: cards, brochure, posters - ensure that content is correct, consistent and no typos.
  • Do regular tracking: presentations, OSIRIS-REx in media, website and social media statistics, YouTube views.
  • Participate in OSIRIS-Rex outreach program for elementary and middle school student visiting the OSIRIS-REx Great Ball of Fire at Flandrau Science Center

I have been active in helping refugees journey in Tucson toward self-sufficiency, encouraging them by example and mentor them. My long-term goals is to use the large volume of data coming to us then analyze it to find new trends and predict future opportunities to bring science and technology to the public. 

Sallum, Stephanie

Sallum, Stephanie

I’m a first year Ph.D. student in Astronomy, and I’m working to better extend UA and Kitt Peak’s resources to the Tohono O’odham Nation in the hopes of building a better and sustainable relationship between UA astronomy and the O’odham schools. During the school year I will introduce groups of Baboquivari High School students to observational astronomy bothin the classroom and also by bringing small groups to Kitt Peak to observe on the 90” Bok telescope.  These classroom and observing sessions will take place in conjunction with the Arizona Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) program, centered at UA.

In the summer of 2013 I will mentor a small number of interested students as they conduct larger scale research projects contributing to Professor Josh Eisner’s work on protoplanetary disks.  They will be using infrared spectroscopy to measure time-variable emission, which can provide insight into disk structure and planet formation processes.  They will work alongside Professor Eisner’s undergraduate summer students from the California-Arizona Minority Partnership for Astronomy Research and Education (CAMPARE) program.  I will work with the students to produce a written report of the quality that can be submitted to national science fairs and competitions. 

My motivation for this project comes from my own experience participating in summer research during high school.  Contributing to current-day research gives young people insight into the working life of the scientist and has the potential to inspire them to pursue similar careers.  Producing a written summary is also good practice in learning to effectively communicate ideas to others, a skill often neglected by even the most experienced astronomers and scientists.  It is my hope that this project will not only affect individual students in positive ways, but also encourage greater interaction between UA astronomy and the Tohono O’odham Nation. 

Sommers, Pacifica

Sommers, Pacifica

I am a fourth year Ph.D. student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. I study how invasive plants affect biodiversity. I am passionate both about science and the outdoors, and especially combining them. My Space Grant project allows me to pursue those interests in helping to inspire a new generation of explorers and scientists. 

Exposing students to science inquiry in outdoor settings increases their interest in and knowledge of scientific concepts. But despite the rich natural resources near Tucson, many Tucson students lack access to them due to financial and logistical limitations of their homes and schools. As a Fellow in the BioME GK-12 program last year, funded by the National Science Foundation, I spent several days every week in two seventh grade classrooms. I experienced first hand how important interactive and informal learning can be. I also understood better all the logistical challenges to moving science class outdoors. 

I have been a volunteer and certified trip leader for Tucson Inner City Outings (Tucson ICO), a nonprofit that provides outdoors experiences for low income youth of diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds, for three years. I have partnered with Tucson ICO and the Mount Lemmon Sky Center (MLSC) to develop, fundraise for, and lead at least four overnight multi-disciplinary experiences for middle school groups to Mount Lemmon. We explore the ecology, geology, and astronomical viewing opportunities provided by the Sky Islands in our region, and how best to protect these resources. These trips will serve as pilot projects for in a developing vision of a Sky School education program at MLSC.