Jim Plaxco: ‘It seems clear that students would benefit from the injection of more space-themed subject matter into school curriculums’.
The Chicago Society for Space Studies (CSSS) has been actively promoting the exploration of space and educating the public about space exploration and the solar system since 1977. As a pro-space organisation, CSSS has sponsored the appearance in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs of astronauts, a cosmonaut, and a variety of space industry professionals, as well as producing their own original programming. They feel strongly about the value of education, particularly STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) as an increasingly complex technological society will require that we, as citizens, are able to intelligently address the myriad issues that challenge us.
As a part of their educational mission, CSSS maintains a Speakers Bureau. The speakers have provided space exploration related presentations to youth groups, astronomy clubs, libraries, museums, and schools in the Chicago area. It is appropriate that since CSSS was born out of a class on space settlement, that they engage in a variety of educational programs. In addition to having sponsored astronaut (and cosmonaut) appearances at northern Illinois schools, members of the CSSS Speakers Bureau have made themselves regularly available to schools, scouting groups, libraries, and other organisations.
We spoke to CSSS president, Jim Plaxco, about the growing importance of the space sector.
What is the importance of the promotion/education of space exploration? Do you think enough is being done with the education of space exploration, solar systems etc. in schools? What more can be done?
By promoting space via a variety of educational outreach activities, CSSS is striving to increase the public’s understanding of the growing importance of the space sector in our daily lives, its role in the improvement of our quality of life, and to excite the interest of students in the relevant fields of science and engineering.
We have known for a long time that space is a source of educational inspiration for students. As such, incorporating space-themed subjects into curriculums can serve as a motivating factor for students. One example of a non-traditional introduction of a space theme has been that of the Space Apps Challenge, which for 2017 had as its theme the creation of apps that challenged the more than 25,000 people participating to come up with new ways of using Earth-focused remote sensing data.
It seems clear that students would benefit from the injection of more space-themed subject matter into school curriculums because it is a future-looking theme that emphasises the importance of science and technology in the continual improvement in our quality of life.
What is the work and role of CSSS?
As one of the oldest pro-space organisations in the United States, and the largest such organisation in Illinois, the Chicago Society for Space Studies’ central focus has always been public outreach. For 40 years, our organisation has hosted free public programs that have addressed a wide variety of space-related issues. CSSS has also organised and sponsored visits by astronauts, scientists, and even a Russian cosmonaut. In recent years our activities have focused on the CSSS Speakers Bureaus, which now serves as our principal outreach tool.
Can you tell us a bit about the Speakers Bureau?
CSSS had been providing educational presentations for schools, civic groups, and libraries for years. As we added speakers and extended our range of topics, as well as geographical coverage, a decision was made to formalise our outreach activities by creating a speakers bureau. This made it possible for anyone looking for someone who could talk about space to see exactly who our speakers are, what topics they speak on, and what some of our past venues have been. Since formally instituting our Speakers Bureau program, our number of speaking engagements has increased significantly. We’ve also won several awards from the National Space Society in recognition of the success of our speakers bureau.
Where would you like to see space education in five years’ time and what role do you hope to see CSSS play in this?
Within five years I would like to see the linkage between space as a discipline and the relevant STEM fields made much stronger. We regularly hear about the importance of STEM and the need to encourage students to pursue an educational track that culminates in a STEM-field degree.
However, a student needs to have confidence that such a degree will result in a fulfilling career path. Integrating space and STEM should have the effect of demonstrating to students that there can be a rich and rewarding career for those pursuing a STEM degree. As to the role of CSSS, I hope that we continue to serve as a source of space expertise for northern Illinois and that we continue to excite the public, and especially students, about the many possibilities of humanity’s expansion into space.