FAIRMONT — COVID-19 has upended many field trips students would normally take in the fall, so NASA is bringing the field trip to the students.

Every year, middle school students from around the county visit the Interstate 79 High Technology Park for “A Day in the Park.” The trip is usually filled with activities and presentations from experts in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. The trip gives kids a hands-on look at potential career paths.

“With this event, we’re trying to encourage students to think about a career in STEM and also educate them about the careers available in West Virginia,” NASA Education Outreach Specialist Josh Revels said. “There’s a wealth of opportunities here in the High Tech Park.”

This year, due to COVID precautions, the day in the park was brought to the students virtually. The three-day event kicked off Tuesday, which will end Thursday, will address a different topic each day.

Staffers at NASA’s Katherine Johnson Independent Verification & Validation facility in the tech park livestreamed presentations from professionals in the STEM fields and teachers and parents were invited to have their students follow along with the broadcast.

“Normally the students would go around the exhibit hall and work with these professionals and see demos,” Revels said. “Since we can’t meet at that scale this year, we decided to ask these professionals to join virtually.”

Tuesday kicked off the day with a lesson on robotics, Wednesday will cover telescopes and Thursday will cover experimental airplanes.

All of the streams will be recorded and teachers and parents are invited to watch the recordings with their students or children on YouTube.

The first robotics presenter was Doug Adams from the John Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, who spoke about the upcoming Dragonfly space mission which will send a robotic drone to Saturn’s moon, Titan.

Adams explained how the drone was built, the logistics of sending it to Titan and how it’s able to pilot itself millions of miles away from Earth.

“It takes a long time to communicate with the probe when it’s so far away... so it has to have autonomous capability,” Adams said.

That “autonomous capability” is what Adams had a direct hand in developing.

After his presentation was a video by Nick Ohi, a doctoral student at West Virginia University who is studying robotics. He gave a presentation about his experiences developing decision-making robots and the benefits of choosing a STEM career path.

“I work on robots, specifically, I work on the way robots think and make decisions,” Ohi said. “I hope the presentation was interesting and got [the students] thinking about getting involved in robotics.”

The presentations continued with lessons about programming robots, practical applications of artificial intelligence, and wrapped up with a Fairmont State University student talking about upcoming robotics and STEM competitions that the students could potentially participate in.

“When you get to experience some of these activities that aren’t normally done in a classroom, it’s really fun,” Revels said. “The students get to talk to people like them that are from West Virginia [whom] they can see as a role model.”

Teachers and parents can register to watch the next two mornings of presentations by going online to dip.nasaivverc.org, presentations begin at 8 a.m. The recording of the presentations can be found on YouTube by searching NASA IV&V Education Resource Center.

“We want to show people in West Virginia the STEM careers that are available to them and that they’re really fun,” Revels said. “We want to help them get into a fulfilling career in West Virginia.”

Reach David Kirk at 304-367-2522 or by email at dkirk@timeswv.com.

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