Skip to main content
SearchLoginLogin or Signup

Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project: A Toolkit for Broadening STEM Participation, Building Networks, and Bridging Education and Research

Building capacity and broadening participation in long-term, nationwide STEM programs

Published onMar 07, 2024
Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project: A Toolkit for Broadening STEM Participation, Building Networks, and Bridging Education and Research
·

Abstract

The Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project (NEBP)1 is a student-centered and team-based STEM initiative that leverages the October 14, 2023 annular eclipse and April 8, 2024 total solar eclipse for authentic learning opportunities. Its nationwide fractal network establishes multidirectional communication, enabling the program to meet its goals and objectives. The NEBP has the potential to serve as a scalable model for similar STEM- and NASA-related initiatives. To share the project model and associated lessons with other interested STEM leaders, we have formatted this article as an “NEBP toolkit” that describes our approach to building capacity in NASA-mission-like hands-on experiences through a targeted STEM network (in this case, around scientific ballooning), broadening student participation, establishing a leadership model, and integrating diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility (DEIA) practices.

1. Introduction

The Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project (NEBP) is a student-centered, scientific research initiative that integrates the rare North American solar eclipses with team-based science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. Funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Science Foundation since 2015, the NEBP utilizes the October 2023 Annular Solar Eclipse and the April 2024 Total Solar Eclipse as a motivating scientific focus for ambitious and authentic STEM learning experiences with scientific ballooning.

Since the early 2000s, scientific ballooning has been a valuable, mission-like, hands-on STEM engagement activity in the United States. Scientific ballooning in academic settings uses weather balloons carrying payloads of engineering and science experiments; weighing a total of less than 12 lb (5.45 kg) to altitudes of approximately 100,000 ft (~30,480 m). At these altitudes – above 99.5% of the atmosphere – payloads experience a space-like environment.

For the 2023 and 2024 events, the NEBP supports 53 student teams from 75 educational institutions in cutting edge scientific ballooning missions across the nation. Student teams pursue research in atmospheric science or engineering working alongside mentors, NASA subject matter experts (SMEs), and STEM professionals. The 53 teams participate in one of nine regional pods where they benefit from having a pod leader who offers technical support and facilitates communication with each of the pod’s teams. In total, more than 650 students and 150 mentors are immersed in this 18-month, hands-on experience that has the ability to produce over a dozen peer-reviewed journal article submissions, a sustainable nationwide network, and life-changing experiences for the participants.

A group of students holding up two large balloons
Figure 1

Florida engineering teams prepare to fly engineering balloons. Photo courtesy of NEBP.

The NEBP supports two types of teams engaged in scientific ballooning missions. Atmospheric science track teams fly radiosondes while engineering track teams fly balloons carrying payloads engineered by students. Radiosondes are small standardized commercial off-the-shelf payloads of less than 190 grams that collect high-temporal resolution data up to 115,000 ft (~35,052 m) in altitude. Each NEBP atmospheric science team flies up to 30 radiosondes per solar eclipse, launching a balloon every hour beginning 24 hours prior to a solar eclipse and continuing until six hours after.

In contrast with the small, lightweight radiosondes, the engineering track balloons are larger and carry more equipment in their payloads. Typical engineering platform experiments include atmospheric measurements, photography, cosmic radiation measurements, and space technology proofs of concept (Figure 1). NEBP engineering platform participants generate real-time video that will be streamed on the NASA eclipse broadcast, make high-resolution GPS measurements to complement the radiosonde data, and conduct other applicable individually designed experiments involving, for example, special cameras and radiation sensors. Both atmospheric science and engineering teams collect data to inform the scientific study of how the atmosphere reacts to the cold, dark shadow of a Solar Eclipse, while helping us understand the atmosphere in general.

The NEBP's scalable model serves as a framework for replication. Distinct from typical short-term STEM projects, the NEBP serves as a model for long-term, mentor-intensive, enduring efforts that strive to engage students in unparalleled real-world, mission-based STEM experiences. The scientific research the NEBP is conducting can only be done with a large group of people (i.e., more than 500 individuals) to cover many sites with high temporal resolution. The NEBP strategically brings together practicing scientists and (primarily undergraduate) students, to collaborate on innovative research. The students are prepared to carry out field campaigns and data analysis via NEBP-provided courses and in-depth hands-on practice.

This article is designed to offer an example toolkit for those interested in broadening student participation, building capacity for designing and implementing intensive “out-of-the-classroom" STEM education programs, and sustaining similarly designed networks. The toolkit includes information on the NEBP’s project structure and leadership roles, broadening participation through authentic learning experiences, educational resources, commitment to DEIA, and integration of evaluation and learning assessments.

2. NEBP Toolkit

2.1 Project Structure and Leadership Roles

Establish a nationwide network.

Initiating a nationwide network of STEM professionals and student participants begins with the strategic promotion of the program's goals and objectives at recruitment events. Drawing on the successful experience of past NEBP efforts, recruitment efforts were notably effective at National and Regional Space Grant Meetings. These gatherings served as in-person platforms for engaging potential partner institutions and fostering interest in the project's mission. To streamline the dissemination of crucial information, the NEBP took a proactive approach by providing comprehensive recruitment materials (e.g., PowerPoint slides). This facilitated an efficient and consistent distribution of essential details, including project goals, objectives, and key partnerships, thus laying a solid foundation for building the nationwide network.

Soliciting proposals.

The NEBP leadership team and pod leads were established by pulling together team leads from earlier 2017, 2019, and 2020 total solar eclipse projects as well as experts in stratospheric ballooning and atmospheric science. After a planning period in 2021 and 2022, the NEBP solicited proposals from prospective teams in fall 2022. Most of the applicants were STEM educators (e.g., faculty members) at educational institutions. The NEBP leadership team and pod leaders communicated clear guidelines to potential teams during the solicitation phase, guiding them to address specific topics within their proposals, including: a mentoring plan; resource statements; a diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility plan (see more below); a sustainability plan; and team assurances. Proposals required support from the institutions’ Authorized Organization Representative to ensure teams were financially supported and able to participate. After receiving proposals, each pod leader used an evaluation rubric to assess submissions from their region.

Multi-directional communication.

The project established a “fractal” national network, where the project gets richer with each deeper look – national, state, team, students, and student-connected communities. The rich network supports strong multi-directional communication—constant communication among the students, mentors, and leadership. The layered structure of the NEBP includes a principal investigator and a core leadership team that oversees engineering and atmospheric science tracks as well as overall education, fiscal management, and evaluation. Each track is made up of “pods” or groups of teams guided by one pod leader—most commonly a faculty member who is also mentoring a team (Figure 2). This tiered approach allows for effective mentorship and guidance for individual teams. The NEBP core leadership team supports the pod leaders and SMEs. In turn, pod leaders support the student teams.

A map of the US with blue and yellow dots marking different locations
Figure 2

Distribution of Engineering and Atmospheric Science regional pods. Figure by NEBP.

Eclipse-day communications. Starting 24 hours before the Solar Eclipse, a designated member of the NEBP leadership team acts as "NEBP Mission Control," serving as the primary point of contact, operating in a location with internet access (e.g., at a school, home, or office). Recognizing the challenges faced by 2017 NEBP teams who operated in remote launch locations, the NEBP learned how beneficial it was for teams to be able to reach someone with reliable internet access. The NEBP teams could text, call, or email the “Mission Control” lead, who fielded inquiries and provided resources to the teams to help overcome challenges as they occurred. Example actions included sharing student emergency contact details, connecting team leads to the appropriate pod leader, and locating equipment manufacturers’ contacts in real-time.

Social Media Communications. It is beneficial for large-scale projects like this to maintain a social media presence. Dynamic online engagement not only fosters a sense of community for participants but also serves as a powerful tool for showcasing individual team successes within the broader context of a nationwide endeavor. The NEBP selected Facebook® and Instagram® as its social media platforms, using them to introduce teams and highlight their progress throughout the campaign. On the day of the Annular Solar Eclipse (and the upcoming Total Solar Eclipse), the "NEBP Mission Control" conducted an NEBP social media takeover, sharing live updates, team highlights, and stories across platforms. This strategy contributes to seamless communication and real-time visibility of project activities.

Webinars.

Nationwide webinars serve as a cornerstone for fostering robust communication among teams, pod leaders, and leadership. These synchronous interactions not only facilitate real-time engagement but also contribute to cultivating a strong sense of belonging. Hosting webinars in the evening for the Eastern time zone positions the events in the Pacific and Alaska time zones at reasonable times of day, reinforcing the commitment to inclusivity and accessibility across diverse geographical regions.

Organizational infrastructure.

To support a multifaceted project like the NEBP, it is important to establish a strong organizational infrastructure. Various types of data and information need to be both collected and made widely available and easily accessible to project partners and participants. Examples include media releases, collected data, and Federal Aviation Administration/air traffic control documents.  A comprehensive data management plan using Microsoft SharePoint was crafted to ensure the accessibility of mission-critical data for the NEBP leadership team and pod leaders. This not only laid the groundwork for effective communication within the NEBP fractal network but also facilitated seamless interactions among all project members. Additionally, by using various data management platforms, the NEBP leadership team harnessed the capabilities of SharePoint, DocuSign, Google Workspace (including Forms, Photos, Docs, and Maps), and Qualtrics. To foster a successful nationwide network, the NEBP also provided teams with the scientific ballooning equipment needed to conduct successful eclipse practices and campaigns, which were distributed at in-person regional workshops.

2.2 Broadening Participation through Authentic Learning Experiences

Regional training sessions.

The NEBP leadership team organized hands-on learning and training opportunities for participants. For example, the NEBP financially supported team representatives to travel to in-person workshops, which were led by pod leaders at their respective home institutions. The workshops provided the opportunity for NEBP team representatives to meet their pod leaders, network with other teams in their pod, build technical confidence, acquire their solar eclipse equipment, and conduct training flights. Overall, the workshops prepared the team representatives to lead their own teams in successfully undertaking project activities.

The multi-day regional workshops occurred in the Spring of 2023, approximately five months before the first Solar Eclipse. Teams reported this engagement as vital to the success and continuation of their teams, especially for those who were new to ballooning or technical STEM practices.

Value of community building.

Following the in-person training sessions, community connections were supported through the project’s duration via monthly pod video meetings, media story sharing, social media engagement, open forums for technical questions, a Speaker Series that hosted STEM subject matter experts as keynote speakers, and project-wide communications. This kind of community building is a vital part of the project success for several reasons. First, the NEBP encompasses a diverse array of teams, varying in institution type, disciplines, and ballooning experience. The leadership team facilitates connections and fosters relationships between less experienced teams and their more seasoned counterparts. This collaborative approach not only assists inexperienced teams but also instills a sense of responsibility in the experienced teams. Second, individuals will invest more time in endeavors for which they feel a positive sense of belonging. And lastly, the regional communities created through these connections contribute to the project’s sustainability, establishing the structure and bonds necessary for continuing networked scientific ballooning education and activities into the future.

Encourage synchronized practice sessions.

Synchronized, nationwide practice sessions require multi-team coordination to meet critical time and science requirements. The dates for the 2023 Annular and 2024 Total Eclipses imposed a limited window for support and practice. As the context of a rigorous scientific study, the project likewise required all the teams to develop expertise with a variety of scientific and engineering topics, methods, protocols, and an array of complex associated equipment. For the NEBP, this was accomplished through coordinated launch practices and equipment checks. To prepare for the 2023 Annular Solar Eclipse, the engineering teams held nationwide Iridium—or satellite GPS—testing sessions, simultaneously using the equipment. The atmospheric science teams conducted individual practice launches within the same nationwide target window. Both tracks aimed to prepare students for the intense activities on eclipse days and boost the students’ sense of belonging to a nationwide campaign.

Create STEM outreach requirements.

Because our network is geographically distributed across the country, the NEBP teams have an opportunity to immerse their local communities in ballooning and eclipse education. Many teams have already involved local K-12 schools with STEM pedagogy, conducted practice flights in public settings, and invited the public to their annular and total eclipse campaigns. Specific STEM engagements have included; state/county fairs, eclipse expositions, public seminars or presentations, airport-based events, observatory eclipse events, library events, festivals, planetarium shows, educational posters, and more. NEBP teams have specifically engaged local K-12 students by involving educators, facilitating mission patches design challenges, flying K-12 student names on payloads, and flying seeds to grow in classrooms. We’ve also seen NEBP students' work highlighted in community newspapers, news interviews, social media, and blogs. It is important to note that participating teams are required to conduct at least one STEM engagement activity throughout their time participating in the NEBP.

Sun over the limb of the Earth
Figure 3

Annular Solar Eclipse at 80,000 ft (24,384 m) above Nevada. Potential gravity waves can be seen at the right edge of the image. Photo courtesy of the NEBP.

Advance learners’ understanding of the process of science.

One of the elements that makes the NEBP unique is that it is both an education- and research-based project. Participants will organize and conduct rigorous scientific research including collecting and analyzing data and disseminating their findings through scientific publications, presentations, and community engagement. In the process, the NEBP aims to grow learners’ understanding of, and interest in, STEM careers and access to, and interaction with, diverse SMEs.

2.3 Educational Resources

Many NEBP teams joined this campaign with little-to-no experience with scientific ballooning missions. Their participation took diverse forms, ranging from high school teams engaging in extracurricular pursuits to university teams earning academic credit. To promote an equitable learning experience for all, educational materials were embedded within the project website and provided in various formats (e.g., recorded presentations, slide decks, external videos, readings, computer code). These materials aimed to assist team members in constructing foundational knowledge, navigating technical operations, and concurrently enhancing their capacity in non-technical skills such as teamwork, project management, and communication. While the project had access to external resources and drew from experience gained during the 2017 Solar Eclipse ballooning activities, a large portion of the videos, text, code, 3D-print files, and instructional diagrams were custom-made for the current NEBP project by core leadership, pod leaders, team mentors, and graduate students. Many of the resources have potential for extended application beyond the scope of the NEBP, particularly those focused on mission planning, team building, and contingencies. For example, “Contingency Planning - What could go wrong and how to prepare,” a 21-minute video created by pod leaders, includes general advice on contingency planning that follows the NASA Systems Engineering Handbook. A short NEBP video called “Mission Planning” provides general recommendations concerning equipment, scheduling, and external conditions that could apply to mission-focused projects beyond ballooning.

Open access online course modules.

The NEBP created modularized, open-access education lessons designed for asynchronous use. It was important to prioritize easily editable open-access resources. This ensures the leadership team’s responsiveness to the network’s evolving needs, suggestions, and requests for new information. Within all 29 online lessons, users are provided a dedicated link for offering feedback and suggestions. This helps promote an interactive and user-driven educational experience. The lessons’ content —ranging from new NEBP-specific material to pre-existing ballooning tutorial videos, checklists, and other relevant resources — was collaboratively provided by NEBP leadership, pod leaders, and SMEs.

Recognizing that many of the team leaders also serve as faculty at community colleges or universities, tailored educational content specific to the Atmospheric Science and Engineering tracks was delivered to the NEBP teams. This comprehensive content, comprising of 13 online lessons for the atmospheric science track and 16 for the engineering track, was structured to align with a traditional semester timeframe. The content mirrored the typical workload of a 1-credit undergraduate course, approximating around 45 hours of in- and out-of-class work. Example lessons include “Keys to a successful campaign” and “Structuring Teams for Success” as well as technical content such as “Radiosondes and Networks” and “FAA Regulations.” Ninety-six percent of the NEBP teams used the educational content, and nearly two-thirds of the teams applied this content for academic course credit. Other instructors used the week-by-week format as a guiding outline for students engaging with the material in an extracurricular format. The flexibility to implement the learning materials in different ways was crucial, given the diverse contexts and needs represented across the 53 teams.

Progress documentation and career portfolio.

As NEBP teams navigate through the learning materials, students are encouraged to document their work, progress, and reflections using a daily logbook and a more comprehensive portfolio. NEBP resources include a launch-specific metadata worksheet and a logbook template, available in various formats, including a large-print version. Emphasizing flexibility, students are encouraged to choose and share the format that aligns best with their preferences. This documentation process, capturing completed lessons and conducted activities, contributes to a portfolio that showcases their accomplishments. This tool supports future career planning purposes, whether for job interviews, graduate school applications, or other professional pursuits.

Speaker series for career skills and professional connections.

To help strengthen students’ understandings and perspectives about their roles in the STEM workforce, the NEBP launched a Speaker Series in 2023 (continuing through 2024). Invited STEM professionals, including NASA SMEs, share their current work objectives and broaden students’ horizons to the wide breadth of STEM and STEM-adjacent career opportunities. Speakers are encouraged to present not just their current research and data, but also to share their own STEM pathway, interests, and hobbies. This expands their personal connections with students and helps support the students’ growing STEM identities. NEBP student participants are encouraged to interact with the speakers and consider them part of their own expanding professional networks.

Discussion forum.

Other asynchronous learning methods include the use of a free online private forum for NEBP participants. The NEBP forum provides a discussion space where students and mentors can ask and answer questions any time of day. The open forum not only takes pressure off NEBP team leaders to answer all questions, but has generated healthy discussions as teams query other teams for tool or process recommendations or share their own software code modifications.

2.4 Commitment to DEIA

The NEBP has systematically woven the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) into the fabric of its program facilitation, creating an environment that embraces the unique strengths and perspectives of all participants. These principles were integrated into the proposal process, educational support materials and toolkits, team operations, and multi-directional communications.

The NEBP team proposal solicitation included a “team recruitment and DEIA plan” section worth 20 percent of teams’ assessment score. Prospective NEBP teams were required to describe how their mentors would recruit a diverse team of students and how the team would welcome diversity and promote equity, inclusion, and accessibility in their approach. The NEBP leadership team provided prospective teams with DEIA resources on the NEBP website.

We recognize that there is a rapidly shifting sociopolitical landscape with respect to DEIA efforts in the United States. For example, some states are enacting regulations that bar use of DEIA plans or statements. In our project efforts, we are responding by continually revising our protocols with the aim of achieving "broader participation" through means that work for the diverse institutional partners.

The Breakthrough Inclusive Action Toolkit, a resource developed by Science Friday and Howard Hughes Medical Institute (2020), provides guidance on how to make academic STEM culture more inclusive and was interwoven throughout the formation of the NEBP, including participant and partner evaluations. This toolkit introduced critical DEIA team-based topics including, but not limited to, marginalization, implicit and explicit biases, and culturally relevant practices.

Embracing the NASA Science Activation (“SciAct”) core values—teamwork, integrity, safety, inclusion, and excellence (rigor and intelligence)—the NEBP is dedicated to cultivating an authentic, enjoyable, and safe learning experience for all students. This commitment extends to the implementation of evidence-based team practices that emphasize the importance of good listening, effective communication, collaborative interpersonal skills, and the equitable distribution of tasks and responsibilities.

Ensuring eclipses are accessible for all audiences.

The NEBP leaders continuously assess the educational materials and activities to uphold a high standard of accessibility. The primary goal is to create an inclusive environment for all learners of all abilities, actively identifying areas of improvement and addressing any potential barriers (e.g., large print documents for visually impaired individuals). The NEBP collaborates with higher education IT departments to ensure website design accessibility, incorporation of closed captioning for videos and webinars, inclusion of transcripts and meeting minutes, and use of alternative text for images and videos shared on social media. The NEBP provides a spot for participants’ voices on all registration documents, such as the Speaker Series registration. All participants can request accommodations that enable full participation. These approaches aim to diminish accessibility barriers and increase the extent to which the NEBP campaigns are accessible to participants with diverse abilities and backgrounds.

2.5 Integration of Evaluation and Project Learning

External evaluation.

The external project evaluation includes both formative and summative components. Formative evaluation, conducted continuously, offers real-time insights to guide responsive adjustments during project implementation. For example, by attending regional pod meetings, the evaluator learns about potential issues in real-time and ensures the PI and leadership team are aware and responding. Summative evaluation provides the NEPB with information needed to report on the achieved outcomes and impacts of the project.

While external to the project, the evaluators actively engage in a collaborative effort with the project team, particularly the leadership team. The evaluators regularly attend project meetings and events, thus developing a deep understanding of activities in action and building connections with project partners and participants. This ongoing collaboration fosters regular communication between evaluators and project members, which creates an extra channel for sharing insights. The project structure also includes an external education advisory board, which meets several times a year to provide insights regarding project plans and implementation. The education advisory board is a diverse group holding expertise in various education areas including partnerships, policy, and science. Insights collected through these channels become valuable inputs for project decision-making and refining project planning.

The evaluation process incorporates surveys administered at three key time points: project’s start, following the 2023 Annular Solar Eclipse, and after the 2024 Total Solar Eclipse. Customized survey forms are implemented with different groups, including core partners, team mentors, and student team members. These surveys capture diverse perspectives on how the project is working. The design of the surveys was guided by the NEBP logic model (Figure 4). For student respondents, the surveys ask about personal and project-related perceptions and experiences related to engagement, teamwork, mentorship, learning, skills, DEIA, STEM identities, and STEM studies and career intentions. Surveys for partners and team mentors focus on domains such as collaboration, capacity building, and needed support for effective project implementation. Reports from the surveys (including executive summaries and comprehensive synthesized evidence) are being used both for formative purposes (to inform responsive decision-making during project implementation) and summative purposes (to report to NASA the ways and extent to which the project is meeting its stated objectives and outcomes).

table with columns of sentences
Figure 4

Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project (NEBP) Logic Model & Theory of Change, created by the NEBP team for the NASA Science Activation proposal.

Team assessments.

Each NEBP team also completes three assessment reports solicited by the project leadership. The initial reports were collected in September 2023 (prior to the Annular Eclipse), followed by the second in December 2023 (after the Annular Eclipse), and an anticipated third in April 2024 (after the Total Solar Eclipse). These reports document teams’ demographics, their chosen approach to background learning (e.g., whether they used the NEBP-provided lesson plans or opted for self-provided materials), overall satisfaction, reflections on the project, and future preparation (e.g., improving the lifting gas shipment process).

3. Program Assessment

Table 1 highlights the major findings and key takeaways from the second report (data collected September 2023) and may provide educators with evidence-based data to help scaffold their own long-term, team-based STEM programming.

Table 1

September 2023 Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project (NEBP) Team Findings.

NEBP Teams

•94% (n=51) of NEBP teams are engaging undergraduate students.

•59% (n=32) of NEBP teams involved higher education faculty.

•Additional participants included retired STEM mentors, post-docs, higher education staff, informal educators, and industry professionals.

Team Recruitment

•Nearly 33% (n=18) of teams recruited participants within STEM courses.

•33% (n=18) of teams recruited participants through faculty-to-student or student-to-student “word-of-mouth” interpersonal conversations.

•Other recruitment channels included: academic clubs and fairs, websites, flyers, social media, informational sessions, and the Space Grant network.

Background Learning

•96% (n=52) of teams used NEBP educational modules.

•~40% of NEBP teams supplemented eclipse education through independent sources (e.g., eclipse SMEs, STEM faculty).

•~60% of teams had students participate in a for-credit course.

•53% of teams reported they have used the NEBP forum.

– Many cited it as an "invaluable" tool, particularly within the engineering track.

 

Team Characteristics

•93% of NEBP teams felt prepared for the annular eclipse. 7% felt unprepared and may have wanted more time to practice.

Team Strengths*

•Students and mentors were passionate, excited, and enthusiastic about working together.

•Teams collaborated well together, communicating and thriving with the availability of mentors both on the teams, in the pods, and across their engineering or atmospheric science track.

•Students benefited from hands-on experience, practice flights, delegation of technical tasks, strong organization, and problem-solving experiences.

Areas for Growth*

•Team dynamics across multiple disciplines (e.g., collaboration, communication, and organizational skills).

•Student and mentor experience within technical STEM research.

Note: SME: subject matter expert; STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics

*As shared by mentors

As the STEM community approaches the eagerly awaited Total Solar Eclipse on April 8, 2024, the NEBP offers a set of recommendations drawn from the structure, tools, and team assessments discussed in Table 1. The following insights are designed to guide and enhance other STEM educators’ efforts leading up to and during the event.

Leading up to the event:

To prepare STEM learners for a successful campaign, consider the following recommendations:

  1. Support teams with educational resources and mentors.

Provide teams with educational resources and mentorship to ensure those with limited experience are well-prepared for the challenges and opportunities presented by the event.

  1. Prioritize community building.

Foster a sense of community among participating teams. Emphasize collaboration, teamwork, and shared success to create a supportive environment for all involved. Remind all team members of the project values and encourages diverse viewpoints and perspectives.

  1. Utilize in-person trainings and events.

Take advantage of in-person trainings and events to build technical confidence, facilitate networking, and distribute essential materials. If there is limited time until the event, use personalized communications and the advanced features for personalizing web conferencing systems (e.g. breakout rooms, Q&A, and polls).

  1. Establish a strong communication plan.

Develop and implement a communication plan within the network. Stratified and efficient communication channels are essential for disseminating information, addressing questions, and fostering collaboration among diverse teams.

  1. Prioritize organization and data visualization.

Leverage organizational tools such as Google Suite, DocuSign, and file-storing systems for streamlined organization, data collection, visualization, and management.

  1. Plan for safety; prepare for contingencies.

Remind team members that safety is their number one priority, and not everything may go as planned on event day. Help participants prepare a plan B, C, D, and so on, while creating hypothetical scenarios to determine how they will react.

Event day:

Focus on these key preparations:

  1. If internet is at risk, designate a mission control operator who has internet and phone access.

  1. Designate a social media representative.

  2. Remind teams to have fun, soak in the experience, and take photos.

4. Conclusion

The NEBP's multifaceted approach to Solar Eclipse research and education, along with its commitment to DEIA and hands-on learning environments, positions it as a pioneering example for scalable long-term, team-based STEM programs. The ongoing evaluation efforts and early data suggest a positive impact on student engagement and readiness for entering the STEM workforce. Overall, NEBP mentors have reported that their teams felt prepared for the 2023 Annular Solar Eclipse campaign and continue to collaborate as a group.

To prepare for the April 2024 Total Solar Eclipse, the NEBP has provided a toolkit that includes:

1. A carefully designed project structure and roles supporting a vast nationwide network.

2. Authentic scientific and career-oriented learning experiences and resources that are both rigorous and adaptive.

3. A commitment to DEIA that is woven throughout the fabric of the project.

4. A commitment to collaborative evaluation and ongoing learning that positions the project to be flexible to make course corrections to meet the inevitable challenges that arise in such endeavors.

The toolkit not only equips the NEBP with a resilient and adaptable foundation but also offers other STEM programs a model for scalability—whether that involves broadening STEM participation, building and sustaining a nationwide STEM learning network, or bridging the gap between STEM education and hands-on scientific research. We share the NEBP toolkit, presented here, in hope that it may offer valuable insights for other projects and organizations operating in similar domains and with similar goals for STEM participation and capacity building.

Comments
0
comment
No comments here