BEEKMANTOWN, N.Y. – In the North Country, students had two special guests in class Thursday: NASA astronaut Meghan McArthur and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who spoke to an audience of Beekmantown students from the International Space Station.
Thanks to a student group from SUNY Plattsburgh, nearly 6,500 other classrooms across New York State tuned into the event. SUNY Plattsburgh senior Chrysa Rabideau is the chairwoman of the girls’ empowerment program “Shine on!”
“This year we really wanted to focus on STEM and getting girls into the STEM field because those are the industries in which women are lacking,” said Rabideau.
Students pre-recorded their questions and the astronauts answered them live. One student asked what they were enjoying the most.
“I think the most fun thing, of course, is floating. Just moving around and being able to push off the structure and go where you want to go…it never gets old,” said McArthur.
Rabideau said the pandemic canceled her conference a year ago, where she planned to host a STEM-themed event for 200 young girls. But she says her committee still wanted to plan something special.
“We kind of had to find a different way to invigorate students about learning again and get them excited again,” said Rabideau.
For six months, her program worked on a 16-page proposal to submit to NASA, which included letters to politicians, gathering sponsors, and finding workshop presenters. In February, Chrysa and her committee got the acceptance email.
“When we got accepted, which is pretty rare. They don’t do many of these. So, it was a huge honor to be accepted and they liked our proposal,” said Shine On! Program Director Colleen Lemza.
Students said they enjoyed Thursday’s lesson from space. “It was amazing,” said fifth-grader Evie Ford, who added that she especially enjoyed hearing from a female astronaut.
One student asked McArthur how she found the courage to travel to space.
“I first started to think about becoming an astronaut around your age,” she said. “I think the thing that helped me the most: nobody told me it was a thing that girls didn’t do. So I just went ahead and pursued that goal.”
Another fifth-grader enjoyed Thursday’s unique lesson.
“I like science because it’s filled with so many opportunities and it’s just fun,” said Max Danville.
After the conference, classrooms could participate in 30 different, virtual, stem-themed workshops.
“Whether it’s STEM or any other industry, it’s possible. And we wanted to kind of instill the resilience and the confidence in students across New York state,” said Rabideau.