From the Valley into Space!

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PSJA ISD Team Experiment Selected to Fly to the International Space Station

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3…2…1…We have liftoff!

For a team of five juniors in Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD (PSJA), experiencing the launch of a shuttle into space has become an exciting reality. Passionate about science, the students from PSJA Thomas Jefferson T-STEM Early College High School, designed an experiment that was selected as a finalist for the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) Mission 11.

Designed to inspire and engage the next generation of scientists and engineers, the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) enables, through a strategic partnership with DreamUp PBC and NanoRacks LLC, the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory. SSEP is the first pre-college STEM education program that is both a U.S. national initiative and implemented as an on-orbit commercial space venture.

The program typically serves 300 students in communities from across the nation and Canada in every facet of authentic research of their own design. Through this once in a lifetime opportunity, the students will get to witness their experiment launched to the International Space Station from Cape Canaveral, Florida in early August of this year. In addition to proudly representing the PSJA School District, the team is one of four selected from Texas and the only one from the Rio Grande Valley.

The students in the finalist team include Kirk Miller, Emiliano Nuno, Anna Pineda, Kristina Evasco and Abigail Salazar. Their Engineering Teacher, Andrew Martinez, serves as facilitator.

“Our experiment deals with gravitropism,” said Miller of their experiment titled How does microgravity effect the growth of an Allium cepa seed? “Essentially, it causes plants to have their roots growing down because of gravity. Since there is no gravity in space, we want to see how that will affect the plant.”

As the first T-STEM early college in the Rio Grande Valley, PSJA T. Jefferson’s students are exposed to science, technology, engineering and math, on a daily basis. Passionate about STEM, all five of them plan on graduating with Associate Degrees in the field before graduating from high school.

“This is the start of our growth as individual scientists, engineers and computer scientists,” said Kristina Evasco in an interview with KVEO News Channel 23. The junior looks forward to graduating this May with an Associate Degree in Engineering. Thanks to a partnership with South Texas College, more than 3,500 PSJA ISD high school students are enrolled in college courses at the district’s high school, which are all designated Early College High Schools by the State of Texas.

Earning a spot for their experiment to board Mission 11 was a difficult process, but the students are excited for the challenge.

“It’s been challenging, but they have definitely gained new knowledge and stepped out of their comfort zone,” said their teacher. “I am very grateful for the support we’ve received from our PSJA Family.”

Knowing students will Screen Shot 2017-03-09 at 9.07.49 AMbe representing the district and South Texas in space has raised excitement among the tri-city area.

For Dr. Daniel King, PSJA Superintendent of Schools, he hopes the students’ triumphs inspire others to keep working hard and achieving their dreams.

“This is a tremendous accomplishment,” he shared. “We commend the students and teachers involved for their efforts. They will not only proudly represent our PSJA Family, but also every student in the Rio Grande Valley.”

Like Dr. King, all five students expressed their hopes and desire for their work to lead the pathway in STEM for others to follow.

“We can only hope that students in the RGV can experience what we’re experiencing,” Abigail Salazar told KVEO News Channel 23. “It’s important to everybody, not just us.”