News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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February 15, 2014

The Right Stuff: West Vigo science teacher nominated by NASA for international award

Diedre Adams up for Frank J. Malina Astronautics Medal

WEST TERRE HAUTE — Diedre Adams loves teaching science and sharing that enthusiasm with her students at West Vigo Middle School.

An educator for 34 years, she’s made a name for herself in the science community, and in particular, at NASA.

She spent the 2008-09 school year working in the NASA Office of Education in Washington D.C. through a fellowship program — the highly competitive Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow.

Also through NASA, she’s been certified to show moonrocks to students in Vigo County and school districts around the country.

In 2009, she participated in a Northrop Grumman Foundation “zero gravity” flight in Detroit. She and several other teachers conducted science experiments during the flight.

In 2012, as part of another NASA program, some of her students took photos of the moon through access to a satellite orbiting the moon.

So maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that NASA has nominated her for a prestigious international award.

NASA has nominated Adams for the Frank J. Malina Astronautics Medal, presented annually to an educator who has demonstrated excellence in taking the fullest advantage of available resources to promote space sciences.

The award is presented by the International Astronautical Federation.

The NASA Office of Education chose to nominate Adams this year “due to her longstanding commitment to inspire and educate students about science, technology, engineering and math” using NASA content, said Jim Stofan, who works in NASA’s Office of Education in Washington, D.C.

NASA solicited nominations from its education staff across the country. After a review of Adams’ background and qualifications, the Office of Education chose to nominate her, he said.

Previous NASA nominees have been Christa McAuliffe (Challenger) and Barbara Morgan (Teacher in Space). “They actually won the international award, but I feel honored just to have been chosen as the U.S. nominee,” Adams said recently.

The winner will be honored in the fall during a gala dinner in Toronto hosted by the International Astronautical Congress.

Since Adams completed her NASA fellowship in 2009, she has not stopped educating the public to the importance of space sciences and exploration, Stofan said.

Outside of school time, she also works to attract and retain more girls to advanced studies in engineering and other STEM fields, including climate change studies.

She showed her school how to apply to the NASA artifacts program, did the paperwork and paid from her own pocket the cost of shipping the artifacts. As a result, the school has three Space Shuttle tiles that can withstand 3,000-degree heat and six patches designed for space suits when astronauts did space walks.

“Over her 34-year career, she has engaged, inspired and educated tens of thousands of students and learners throughout the United States,” Stofan said.

The nomination is just one more feather in the cap for Adams, who’s been teaching at West Vigo Middle School since 1999.

She still travels to other communities around the country, educating students and adults about moonrocks and meteorites, typically during her breaks or personal leave time. She requests the moonrocks from NASA and must observe strict security measures.

“I think probably one of the biggest hooks to get kids interested in science is space because it’s the final frontier,” she said. “I was really interested in space growing up.”

Her uncle worked on NASA projects as a rocket scientist for Martin-Marietta. At his invitation, she and her family traveled from their home in South Caroline to Cape Canaveral to witness the launches of Apollo 8, 11 and 13. During her NASA fellowship, she interviewed the Apollo 8 crew — Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders.

These days, students don’t seem to know as much about NASA and space exploration, so Adams talks about its history, its future “and how NASA is related to everything in their life now,” from cell phones to satellite TV to laptop computers.

During her advanced science class at West Vigo Friday, Adams taught students about “sublimation,” when a substance goes directly from a solid to a gas without turning into a liquid first. There aren’t many substances that do that, she said. She used iodine.

She also taught them about water conservation, and they’ll soon be studying the weather.

The class has been working on a National Science Foundation grant with Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Her students are trying to create a gel that simulates human tissue.

Eighth-grader Andrew Cuffle hopes Adams wins the international award. “I really like her teaching style because she can entertain us and teach us at the same time,” he said. “She tells us about some of her adventures with NASA, and it’s really interesting.”

Another student, Lucus Bendzsa, said Adams draws on her experiences and applies what she’s learned to the classroom.

“She does so much that is not required of her,” he said. “We work on a lot of stuff that she doesn’t have to do.”

Because of the experiences she can share and the way she presents information, “The stuff she tells us I will never forget,” Bendzsa said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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