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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America



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NASA Grant Helps Teach Kids from Tribal Schools About Space and Science


by Gail Schontzler, Bozeman Chronicle Staff Writer

Jubilee Vanderburg watched her model rocket shoot high in the sky over Montana State University on Tuesday, to the cheers of her friends at a NASA space camp for American Indian teens.

"I was kind of surprised it went that far, that high," said Vanderburg, 14, a Ronan High School freshman.

About 50 students attending the two-week camp got to launch rockets from the MSU athletic practice fields on South Seventh Avenue.

Each time a rocket was ready to launch, John Getty, an MSU adjunct instructor, would do a count down on his bullhorn: "T minus 5, 4, 3, 2, 1!"

Most of the foot-long rockets would then zoom up, some so high they got momentarily lost in the rain clouds overhead.

A few rockets were duds.

Ashleigh Wilbert, 15, shook her head sheepishly after hers broke up and fizzled to the ground.

"It probably was too heavy," she said.

Nothing like a crashing rocket to make physics come alive.

This is the first year for the space camp, which was made possible by a NASA grant to Salish Kootenai College. Tim Olson, who teaches physics and engineering there, worked with two MSU assistant professors of physics, Charles Kankelborg and David McKenzie, to launch the camp.

The NASA program works with historically black, Hispanic and tribal colleges to promote an interest in space and science among minority students. The colleges receive three-year grants of to $275,000.

The 50 teens, many wearing colorful NASA T-shirts, came from Montana's Mission Valley and schools on the Flathead Reservation.

"We hope a few will end up as engineers or scientists," Kankelborg said.

The students spent the first part of the camp at Blue Bay on Flathead Lake, but Kankelborg didn't want them launching rockets there.

"I did not want to be responsible for burning down the forest," he said.

In addition to building black powder-propelled rockets, the students got a trigonometry lesson in using right-angle triangles to measure the height of each rockets' flights.

At MSU, they toured physics and space labs, and met scientists working on real satellites. That impressed the kids, said Juan Perez, student life director at Salish Kootenai College.

The big secret is to get the students on campus, having fun, staying in dorms, eating campus food, meeting professors and realizing, "Hey, these guys are cool," said Tracie McDonald, the tribal college's student support service director.

The camp is cool, said Keith Michel Jr., 14, from Two Eagle River School, who wants to be a game warden someday.

"You get to learn about the sun, sun spots, and meet new friends," he said.

Jessica Buckless, 14, a Salish tribal member, said she wants to become a doctor.

"This is, like, a really great opportunity for all Native American students who want to grow up and do something with science and math," she said.

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