ODUOnline Supports NASA Summer Program Following Distancing Guidelines

Students on a web conference

In 2020 ODUOnline, Old Dominion University's office of distance learning, was proud to be a part of the Virginia Space Grant Consortium's (VSGC) summer program series for high school and community college students.

This annual event focuses on aerospace education and research, and is usually done in person, on site at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. and other partner sites. This year, the summer tradition was interrupted by COVID-19 distancing guidelines. "It became very evident that it wasn't going to be possible to do programs on site at NASA," said Mary Sandy, Director of the Virginia Space Grant Consortium, "and we'd have to look at doing virtual programs."

That's where ODUOnline came in. Old Dominion University's academic technology services led by Dr. Miguel Ramlatchan collaborated with the VSGC team to set up and test the necessary platforms, train the teams, and set up this year's summer program.

With COVID-19 closing public schools for the end of the 2019-2020 school year, students were ready for the challenge. Mentored by NASA and other industry mentors, 421 pre-college students were able to work together to design and present NASA missions. They addressed science and technology needs, served in roles that mirrored real-life flight teams, and presented their work to experts.

It was a long day for the students, starting at 8 a.m. and going to 8 p.m. with meal breaks. Rudo Kashiri, the Education Programs Manager for the Virginia Space Grant Consortium, worried that the students may disengage from an online program that went all day, but he found that students were staying logged in and working even after the program adjourned for the day. "The students really got into what was going on," Kashiri said. "We were worried about participation lasting the whole day, but we were surprised."

A high school student sits at a laptop near a window at home, one of 215 students who connected virtually to NASA's 2020 event.
One of 215 students across Virginia who was able to participate in this year's virtual camp with NASA.

This year with the help of ODUOnline, 421 students participated in VSGC's pre-college programs, and 25 community college students participated in NASA's research experience.

This isn't the first time ODUOnline and VSGC have worked together. Last fall, ODUOnline  assisted with a series of webinars focused on cutting edge aeronautics. Nothing is scheduled yet for VSGC's next streaming event, but there will likely be something on the horizon after this year's success. "The response was really excellent," said Sandy. "[The students] were very capable of working in a virtual environment. It was very easy and natural for them." One participant said, "The virtual academy was the closest that I have seen to a true learning environment in a virtual space! It truly had the feel of an actual learning environment, while still providing for us to meet socially within our teams.”

The Virginia Space Grant Consortium (VSGC) is a coalition of five Virginia colleges and universities, NASA, state educational agencies, Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology, and other institutions representing diverse aerospace education and research. Read more about it here: vsgc.odu.edu.

Old Dominion University, located in the coastal city of Norfolk, is Virginia's entrepreneurial-minded doctoral research university and has been delivering distance learning programs for 30 years. It offers more than 100 programs through ODUOnline in a variety of formats, allowing students to complete degree programs across the world. ODU serves more than 24,000 students annually by providing the same rigorous academics online and on-campus. Learn more about ODUOnline's programs by visiting online.odu.edu.