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Monday, 6 July 2015

CASSA STEAM Keynote Address

Written by Allen Davidson, Superintendent of Employee Services
From CASSA – Conference July 2-4 Montreal, QC


The conference kicked off with keynote speaker Natalie Panek.  Panek’s passion for science and exploration have lead this Calgarian to become a Mission Systems Engineer (Rocket Scientist and Explorer) at MDA Space Missions after internships with NASA. Follow Natalie on Twitter @nmpanek. 

During her inspirational message Natalie touched on the key learning opportunities and competencies that she sees as integral for engaged learning. First she highlighted the need for Perseverance as she recounted 4 rejections from the NASA space exploration internship program. After her 4th rejection she decided to pick up the phone and call NASA herself. It only took two minutes on the phone before she was offered an internship! Natalie reminded us we as educators must encourage the young people in our lives develop perseverance and resiliency accept failure and learn to pursue our goals relentlessly. Next she discussed the concept of Peak Moments and ensuring our young people are able to recognize and pursue these in their own lives. She discussed her important Peak Moments as those times where she was engaged in a project or undertaking where she was full of life including her work on the U of C Solar Car Project and her NASA internship teams. In Foothills we know this as ‘Flow’ where students are intellectually engaged in authentic tasks provide appropriate challenge for the skills and competencies that students have. The takeaway here is that as educators we can help our students identify what the conditions for peak moments are and how to evaluate if students are moving toward or away from those conditions and how to pursue those Peak Moment conditions.

Panek then addressed Teamwork and the skills necessary to be part of successful teams where she has achieved her own advances and breakthroughs in S.T.E.A.M. She emphasized our obligation to develop the skills and competencies required to be part of an effective team including dealing with frustrations through self-awareness and self-regulation. Communication was a competency that Panek has come to understand is important for her work on teams but also helping others understand the importance of the work she is leading. By example, she discussed Science Communication and how essential clear communication is to gain support for fostering research in robotics technology to advance sustainable space exploration through recycling and re-purposing of abandoned satellite technologies. Relatedly, Panek outlined the importance of Multidisciplinary Understanding throughout all the research and design projects she has been a part of. She recounted the rich history of the arts throughout NASA’s history. Further, she discussed how it has become imperative for her to have perspectives from multiple disciplines as she considers the broader social and ethical impact of her work in environments beyond the earth.

Finally, Natalie Panek left us with the need to ensure our young people have innovators and pioneers in S.T.E.A.M. for Mentorship opportunities. She reminded us that societal obsession with reality TV personalities like Kim Kardashian was overshadowing our awareness of significant female leaders and role models like Ziya Tong and Jessi Combs.