OKMULGEE, Oklahoma – Schools around the Mvskoke reservation had the opportunity to bring their students in sixth through 12th grade to Green Country Technology Center to chat with Astronaut Paul Lockhart on Wednesday, May 11.
To honor Siegfried Space week (May 9-13), MCN Education and Training ACE (Assessing Choices in Education) along with Tulsa Regional STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) Alliance partnered to host this event at the GCTC after two years of hosting virtual events.
“We are working hard to make sure that kids all across our community and as members of the Muscogee Nation have access to career opportunities that excite them and energize them,” Executive Director of the Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance Levy Patrick said.
Oklahoma has a few Native American representatives in the aerospace industry, including Mary Golda Ross(Cherokee) and John Herrington (Chickasaw).
Patrick said he believes that Native Americans have a natural inclination to space industries.
According to Patrick, this stimulus allows students to see what is out there in the real world when it comes to having important and exciting career goals.
“It’s definitely our hope that students can see the opportunities,” Patrick said.
Students can be anything from a pilot to a manufacturer or technology or engineers included in the overall “flight” labor force.
Farming can be another way to use aviation to some potential when caring for land, crops, and animals.
“Somebody may be really excited about space, and somebody may be really excited about taking care of their farm,” Patrick said. “In both applications, drones or planes or other technologies may have a relationship that could excite a child.”
Participants from Ryal, Tahlequah, Preston, Graham-Dustin, Liberty Mounds, and homeschool students attended, reaching about 40 native and non-native youth.
Lockhart is an American aerospace engineer, retired the United States Air Force Colonel and NASA astronaut, and a veteran pilot of two Space Shuttle missions, STS-111 and STS-113, in 2002.
He is most known for his piloting role on the Endeavor in the late 1980s.
During these missions, he directed six spacewalks to repair and construct the International Space Station. He accumulated over 26 days in space in support of these missions.
He shared his experience working in developing cutting-edge technology avionics with the students by giving a detailed presentation with footage recorded on the ship and performing repairs to the ISS while in space.
As he tells his story, he hopes that the students feel like they can shoot for the moon.
Texas-born and raised, Lockhart did not carry any Native American heritage and was not exposed to Native culture, but he insisted on self-educating in his adult years.
“I don’t think I’ve had the chance to be here directly with the Muscogee Nation,” Lockhart said. “I’m very honored to be here.”
Herrington, a crewmate of Lockhart, was the first Native American to fly into outer space.
“To be here where he’s from is very important to me,” he said.
The Tulsa STEM program allows heroes like Lockhart to tell their stories to the youth.
“I am passing on what someone did to me when I was young,” he said. “We all, as we go through our lives, have those who pop up and direct us.”
Lockhart hopes he made a lasting impression on the young adults and younger teens to go into the STEM field or at least consider it.
The reservation is known for the vast rural areas from advancing technology industries.
The second thing Lockhart wanted to convey to these aspiring laborers is the prominence and advancing space technology that America has.
“People come here to study this,” he said.
According to Lockhart, the industry has come far in the last 50 years and has far more to go in the next 50 years.
He claims the industry’s workforce is diversifying and becoming multidisciplinary, using various talents and knowledge.
Lockhart said he hopes his talk today only aids in the industry’s growth.
“There’s nothing better than when we pass on, and whatever comes for us after our life is to make sure we have left a strong legacy,” Lockhart said.
“If I have had the opportunity to encourage some of these young adults and children that are part of the Muscogee Nation, then I’ve done my job.”