When NASA sent Commander John Herrington (Chickasaw Nation) to the International Space Station (ISS) on board the Endeavour in 2002, space not only got the first enrolled Native American, but also its first Native American flute payload.
“I played ‘Amazing Grace’ on board the ISS while my crewmate, Don Pettit, used a vacuum cleaner hose to simulate an aboriginal didgeridoo, which he actually brought onboard; he just had not unpacked it yet,” Herrington told Indian Country Today Media Network in a recent interview. “The Native American flute I flew on my mission, a black-lacquered river cane flute, was made by a Cherokee friend, Jim Gilliland.”
Herrington retired from NASA in 2005. He enjoys seeking new challenges, and last year earned his PhD in education from the University of Idaho.
His dissertation research focused on the motivation and engagement of Native students in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields who had attended a NASA summer program. Native American and Alaskan Natives earned just 0.6 percent of master’s degrees in science and engineering in 2009, according to the National Science Foundation—a dismal statistic that highlights the importance of his research and of his motivation to study different approaches to engage Native students in STEM education.
“I wanted to look at the results of tests they took before and after that summer program,” he said. “I did a case study three years later where I actually interviewed those students to really find out the factors that motivated and engaged them in NASA math and science based on that summer program. I analyzed the pre- and post-tests they took, and I had the students tell me the stories of their experience.
“It was interesting because it supports the literature that I’ve read, but there’s not a lot out there on the factors that motivate Native youth in the STEM subjects,” Herrington continued. “The results of my research indicated that Native students become engaged and motivated through hands-on experiential, non-competitive, collaborative learning. They like to work in groups, they like to build stuff, they like to personalize their work and see the practicality in what they’re learning related to the theory.”
“There is a wonderful story to be told about how successful Native American STEM students and professionals have been able to accomplish the difficult work that a STEM profession entails,” Herrington said. “The next generation of students needs to be aware of the factors that made their predecessors successful in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.”
To read the entire article, click here.