Adrian College VP, Dean of Academic Affairs joins NASA’s STEM Expert Review Panel

Being a long-time science and NASA enthusiast, Adrian College’s Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs, Andrea Milner, PhD., was “absolutely thrilled” to have recently served as a member of NASA’s 2021 STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Engagement Internships Outcome Assessment Evaluation and Workforce and Career Readiness Evaluation Expert Review Panel (ERP).

Milner is kind of a NASA geek — the Toledo, Ohio native owns shoes that were worn by one of the first men to walk on the moon. She won the pair of shoes, worn by Buzz Aldrin on Dancing with the Stars, a few years ago while attending the Apollo 11 48th Anniversary Gala Celebration fundraiser, and they are one of her most-treasured collectables. She also has a photo of her with Aldrin at the Kennedy Space Center.

A colleague of Milner’s, Dr. Carla C. Johnson, a NASA Evaluation Specialist at the Glenn Research Center, invited her to join the panel because of the extensive background she has in science education. Milner has worked with Johnson and others through Buzz Aldrin’s Share Space Foundation.

“It was a blast. It was such an honor to have been asked to join the Expert Review Panel,” Milner said, adding that it has been her life’s work to develop science education curriculum.

She, Johnson and Adrian College Professor Dr. Vanessa Morrison have teamed up and published curriculum through the National Science Teachers Association.

“It’s just been one of my areas that I love, sharing science education with all people,” Milner said. “And, also researching what the best practices are in pedagogical methods, strategies and assessment. It’s been just a wonderful journey through the years of learning about effective science education and working to share that with schools and my students at Adrian College, and anyone else that will listen.”

Milner has volunteered to help others for many years and received Zonta Club of Lenawee’s Amelia Earhart Award in 2019. The award is presented annually to someone who exemplifies a pioneering spirit and excellence in her field, while also working to increase the status of women in her community.

“This was another cool opportunity that I knew would be impactful for students who participate in these internships,” Milner said of her decision to join the Expert Review Panel.

NASA’s STEM Engagement program looks to create unique opportunities for a diverse set of students to contribute to NASA’s work in exploration and discovery; build a diverse future STEM workforce by engaging students in authentic learning experiences with NASA’s people, content and facilities; and attract diverse groups of students through learning opportunities that spark interest and provide connections to NASA’s mission and work.

Johnson said to achieve these goals, NASA’s STEM Engagement strives to increase K-12 involvement in NASA projects, enhance higher education, support underrepresented communities, strengthen online education, and boost NASA’s contribution to informal education.

“The intended outcome is a generation prepared to code, calculate, design, and discover its way to a new era of American innovation,” Johnson said.

The expert review panel acted as a technical review working group that provided expertise and feedback on this program. There were seven expert review panel guests, 12 research team members and NASA staff.

Johnson said NASA’s STEM Engagement functions are essential elements in inspiring and engaging educators and students.

“These functions play a critical role in increasing knowledge of NASA’s missions and research, fostering an understanding and appreciation of the value of STEM, and providing educators and students with valuable opportunities that enhance teaching and learning,” she said. “Key to an effective portfolio of activities, is having a rigorous approach to planning and implementing activities through the use of evidence-based effective practices for STEM education and evaluation. An important component of these activities is the review and input by a panel of nationally recognized experts in STEM.”

Members of the panel met remotely for more than five hours and provided feedback and recommendations.

“To begin, we got a little background on the internship and career readiness programs out of NASA,” Milner said. “One of their main focal points is, obviously, increasing the diversity, equity and inclusion component of their internships. They really want to focus on diversifying the NASA family and provide opportunities to students who might not otherwise have those types of opportunities.”

Milner said they also talked about how COVID has affected this past year’s internship opportunities, as a majority of them were virtual.

She recommended NASA do a pre survey, a post survey and a post-2 survey to talk about their efficacy on their attitude about science, as well as content knowledge.

Another component she recommended looking at was the college students’ K-12 science education and curriculum.

“Because, unfortunately, not every school has regular science education, while some do. So, did that create a difference in some of these attitudes or content knowledge or efficacy,” Milner said.

In addition, Milner recommended culturally relatable training for mentors, especially when looking at the “U2 groups,” the underrepresented and underserved.

“How can we make sure they are culturally sensitive with students,” Milner asked.

She also discussed how the virtual internships provide students opportunity who may not otherwise be able to make the trip there.

The second part of the day was about career readiness.

“It was a look at early career NASA employees, people already hired in, and the focus was on looking at the difference between those who went through the internship program and those who were just hired straight in.”

NASA wants to see just how much the internships help prepare the newly hired students in their early careers.

“It’s important work that NASA does with the community outreach, and it was really an honor to be a small part of what they do,” Milner said. “It was so fun!”

Adrian College currently does not offer NASA internships. However, Milner said she hopes it will in the near future.

“We don’t have a direct relation with the NASA internships, but certainly now that I’ve had a chance to learn more about it and participate in it, I was telling Adrian College President Jeffrey Docking I was looking forward to seeing how we can perhaps provide some of those opportunities and pipelines to it with our own students,” Milner said.