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Thursday, June 1, 2023

Cabecar Students Talk with NASA Legend Franklin Chang Diaz

This is one for the history books. A baptism by fire crash course tutorial in space exploration, life skills and public speaking for  grade 11 Cabecar high school students ( for whom Spanish is a second language) with NASA’s first Hispanic astronaut who is also one of the most accomplished space shuttle era astronauts NASA has ever produced.

23 students from the Uluk Kicha high school in the remote Cabecar indigenous territory of Chirripo, Costa Rica had a very memorable field trip on Friday May 5. The purpose of the trip was to provide the students a heads up about  some of the post secondary educational opportunities available to them when they graduate from high school. Another purpose was to soften some of the culture shock that awaits them when they leave their indigenous territory in pursuit of higher education.

The students were bused to the city of Turrialba and their first stop was an orientation visit at Costa Rica’s national university for long-distance studies (UNED). After these informative sessions the students were shuttled to the expansive Turrialba campus of the University of Costa Rica where a historic meeting awaited them and for which they had been preparing for weeks. A private video conference with  NASA Astronaut Hall of Famer and CEO of the Ad Astra Rocket Company,Dr. Franklin Chang Diaz.

The conference was part of the Ad Astra Rocket company’s social responsibility program which runs an annual raffle for underserved populations to win a private video conference with Dr. Chang. Teacher Pedro Morales, who heads the English program at Liceo Rural Uluk Kicha,  entered the contest and won the opportunity for his school. Pedro recently attended the Space Exploration Educators Conference (SEEC) at Space Center Houston and views space as a valuable educational tool to inspire his students. Pedro had this to say about the conference with Franklin Chang.

“This was such a wonderful experience for all of the students, teachers and our school community. It will certainly help them to see beyond the horizon. I hope to continue building more networks in order to help the students move forward with their lives. It was an exciting and unforgettable event personally and academically. Many of these students and our teachers never imagined ever having the chance to talk to Dr. Chang.”

The students showed some nerves at the beginning of the meeting but they were quickly overcome thanks to Dr. Chang’s friendly and informal tone. It was evident how much the students appreciated the activity and the time and thought they had put into creating their questions for Dr. Chang.

Visibly moved, 21 year old Danita Damaris Segura commented after the conference. “For me it was a wonderful experience to talk to Dr. Chang. As a student from Liceo Rural Uluk Kicha it was an honor and privilege meeting someone who is an expert in science and a space traveler like him.  For many years I had dreamed  of meeting Dr. Chang and today my dream came true. I asked him what his advice was for people coming from an indigenous community like me. I really appreciated his answer:

My advice to indigenous young people is you need to take risks and many times you will fail. I say this to young people, that to succeed you need to be ready to fail. One learns from our own failures and it is the lesson I learned in life.People believe that I succeed in everything but the reality is many times I have failed in my experiments.

Once, my university professor told me. Franklin, if you conduct an experiment and the result is perfect then you learned nothing. The experiment needs to fail so you can try again in order to learn from failures.

17 year old Wendy Yuridia Salazar said this about her experience conversing with the creator of the VASIMR thruster and 7 time space shuttle astronaut. “I had never imagined ever in my life to listen to Dr. Chang’s speak to me directly. It gave me the opportunity to be part of this wonderful experience.”

Justin Cespedes, an 11th grade 22 year old student reflected, “For me it was an unforgettable moment that I had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Franklin Chang. I really identify with him and I want to follow his legacy. He taught me that coming from an underprivileged family is not an excuse to not achieve a goal. He inspired me very much.”

The success of this activity was made possible thanks to the collaboration of the Ad Astra Rocket Company, UNED, UCR and Editorial Tecnológica de Costa Rica and Sandra Cauffman at NASA.

Those interested in entering next year’s raffle for a conference with Dr. Franklin Chang can follow the Ad Astra Rocket Company on social media. The raffle is open to educational institutions and under resourced populations.

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