By Lydia Hurley
Local science enthusiasts and families flocked to the College Park Aviation Museum on July 29 for an afternoon of aviation and aeronautical activities celebrating STEAM Day.
STEAM is the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. The museum debuted STEAM Day in 2022; the event showcases how aviation is linked to STEAM fields of study. Kimberly Schwartz, the museum’s education manager, spoke about this year’s event: “This year, we’re focusing on aerospace and space design … we wanted to provide a day of activities to engage people a little more than we typically have in the gallery,” she said.
Schwartz invited NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the University of Maryland’s (UMD) Space Sciences Outreach Cooperative to contribute learning activities for museum visitors.
“Today, we have a 3D model of the OSIRIS REx landing activity … we have the old landing zones set up and little capsules with the parachutes,” said Kathryn Gansler, JPL’s Solar System Ambassador. OSIRIS REx launched in 2016 and is the first mission to sample an asteroid; the craft is due to return to Earth in September.
The Space Sciences Outreach Cooperative is “a brand new organization that we created because there’s a high demand here for Space Sciences in Prince George’s County in the DC area. … University of Maryland, which has the strongest of the space sciences and one of the best aerospace engineering departments in the world, … lacks outreach. So we’re kind of there to fill in that gap and represent the university,” Gansler said.
Gansler and Giannina Guzmán Caloca, both UMD graduate students, led a design-your-own Mars rover activity, where Gansler used her experience working on the Curiosity rover team to help visitors make models of their own Mars rovers using GoldieBlox building blocks, said Gansler.
In addition, museum volunteer Abigail Bailey set up an event where visitors can make galaxy slime out of glue, liquid starch, food coloring and confetti.
“We’ll have some similar events throughout the year, like STEAM Fest, which happens through the park and rec division. In a few weeks, we’re actually going to have an egg drop for kids as another kind of mission-based, engineering-focused event,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz pursued a master’s degree related to museum work at The George Washington University, and now looks forward to being able to conduct hands-on events for museum visitors interested in science, especially women and girls interested in aviation and planetary science. Schwartz studied physics and anthropology as an undergraduate and worked as an educator at a planetarium during an internship; working at the museum brings her full-circle.
“In this role, I still get to talk about aviation and the thing I thought I wanted to do, like as a career, but now I get to merge that with my love of education,” she said.