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Partner Highlight: NASA Langley Research Center Open House: The Museum of Life and Science, El Futuro, and El Centro Hispano Open Opportunities for Hispanic Families

Isabella Lima, Andrea Tejada, & Joan Ballista, Museum of Life and Science, Durham, NC
NASA Langley Research Center Open House-Families Visiting Pose for Photo in Front of NASA Logo
North Carolina family  with Lisa Ziehmann, the Acting Deputy Director of NASA Langley Research Center, Photo Credit: Museum of Life and Science

I have often found myself wondering "Who works at NASA and what type of projects do they work on?" My questions were answered and my interest in STEM sparked on October 21, 2023 at the NASA Langley Research Center Open House. After seven years since the last open house NASA welcomed the public and gave guests a unique opportunity to experience STEM, meet scientists, hear from an astronaut, and build community within an institution that seems exclusive to most. Over 40,000 guests participated, including 15 Hispanic families brought together by the Museum of Life and Science Education and Engagement team, and their co-collaborators El Futuro and El Centro Hispano, two community-based nonprofit organizations in North Carolina providing support to and promoting advocacy for Latino families. 



NASA Langley Research Center Open House MLS - Table Activity with Facilitator Working with Two Young Participants
Museum of Life and Science staff engaging participants in Earth and space activities developed as part of the Sparking Interest project, Photo Credit: Museum of Life and Science

This exciting experience was part of a bigger project where the goal is to build maintainable relationships and attract a diverse group of Hispanic families to STEM through engaging learning opportunities that create wonder and tie to NASA’s work and mission. This incredible opportunity was funded by the Sparking Interest in STEM Among Hispanic Learners Nationwide Through Meaningful Connections to NASA Explorations and Discoveries award through the NASA Teams Engaging Affiliated Museum and Informal Institutions program (NASA Teams II)


Male Educator Holds a Rover Model as Two Youth Listen and Learn More
A model rover, Photo Credit: Museum of Life and Science

The day started on Saturday morning when the families and staff from each organizations met at the Museum, where they boarded a charter bus and drove together to Langley Center. Our arrival at NASA was enthusiastically received by Marilé Colón Robles, Project Scientist for NASA GLOBE Clouds, Sparking Interest project advisor, and wonderful friend of the Museum. Marilé had arranged a wonderful tour that included meeting seven Hispanic scientists and learning about the diverse scientific fields that they work on. This opportunity provided our families a unique glimpse of NASA that created a welcoming and inclusive environment that nurtured curiosity and connections between the families. Another inspiring person our families had the pleasure to meet was Lisa Ziehmann, the Acting Deputy Director of NASA Langley Research Center, who peaked their interests and actively engaged with our children and their numerous questions about space missions.


Boeing 777 Aircraft with a Large Crowd Around It with Activities Setup on Tables
Boeing 777 Aircraft, Photo Credit: Museum of Life and Science

Our VIP tour also included the inside of a high-speed wind tunnel, walking through an inflatable moon habitat for astronauts to live while exploring space, a gigantic robotic arm, NASA’s very own research aircraft, the Boeing 777, and much more. While impossible to convey the thrilling excitement of these families, it was joyful to hear them ask such intriguing questions and even make connections with some of the Hispanic scientists that we had the opportunity of meeting. These scientists are part of the Hispanic Employee Advisory Committee (HEAC) whose mission is to influence and promote awareness of the challenges Hispanics face in STEM. Hearing from these scientists was extremely important because it allowed the children, and their parents, to see themselves in STEM and empower them to build a future within the field. Building these connections between the families is merely the start of our larger goal in breaking down barriers in this historically exclusive field and building a close community rooted in STEM. 


Five Museum Staff Pose for a Group Photo at the Beach
Core members of the team that make incredible opportunities like this possible pose for a photo at Buckroe Beach, Photo Credit: Museum of Life and Science

Sunday morning, we stopped by Buckroe Beach and Park where families had the opportunity to play in the water, bury themselves in sand, and even race each other in an epic competition between parents and kids. While at the beach it allowed our staff and evaluators to talk to the families about their experience at NASA Langley Research Center. One mother, Daisy Zelaya, said “This trip meant so much to my kids. My son told me ‘Mom, everything we saw is going to be so helpful to me in school, for science."



Staff and Participants Pose for a Group Shot Inside in Front of an Inflatable Glove with the NASA Logo
Group photo of all those who participated in this incredible opportunity, Photo Credit: Museum of Life and Science