OKMULGEE, Oklahoma – Schools around the Mvskoke Preserve had the opportunity to bring their sixth through 12th grade students to the 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 (Assessment of Options in Education) along with Tulsa Regional STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) partnered to host this event at GCTC two years later to host virtual events.
“We work hard to make sure that children throughout our community and as members of the Muscogee Nation have access to employment opportunities that excite and energize them,” said Levi Patrick, executive director of the Tulsa Regional Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Alliance.
Oklahoma has a few Native American representatives in the airline industry, including Mary Golda Ross (Cherokee) and John Herrington (Chicasoo).
Patrick said he believed that Native Americans had a natural penchant for the aerospace industry.
According to Patrick, this motivation allows students to see what is out there in the real world when it comes to important and exciting career goals.
“We certainly hope that the students will see the opportunities,” Patrick said.
Students can be anything from a pilot to a factory, technology, or engineer included in the total “flight” work force.
Agriculture can be another way to use flying for some potential when caring for land, crops, and animals.
“Someone might be really excited about the space, and somebody might be really excited about taking care of their farm,” Patrick said. “In both applications, drones, aircraft, or other technologies may have a relationship that could interest a child.”
Participants came from Ryal, Tahlequah, Preston, Graham-Dustin, Liberty Mounds, and homeschooled students, reaching approximately 40 indigenous and non-Native youths.
Lockhart is an American flight engineer, retired US Air Force colonel and NASA astronaut, and veteran pilot on two space shuttle missions, STS-111 and STS-113, in 2002.
He is best known for his leading role in Endeavor in the late 1980s.
During these missions, he directed six spacewalks to repair and build the International Space Station. He’s amassed over 26 days in space to support these missions.
He shared his experience working in developing high-tech avionics with students by giving a detailed presentation with footage recorded on board the ship and making repairs to the International Space Station while in space.
As he tells his story, he hopes the students will feel they can shoot the moon.
Born and raised in Texas, Lockhart carried no Native American heritage and was not exposed to Native culture, but he insisted on self-education in his adult years.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a chance to be here live with Muscogee Nation,” Lockhart said. “I am honored to be here.”
Herrington, a fellow Lockhart crew member, was the first Native American to fly into outer space.
“Being here from where it is is very important to me,” he said.
The Tulsa STEM program allows heroes like Lockhart to tell their stories to young people.
“I pass on what someone did to me when I was young,” he said. “We all, as we go on with our lives, have someone who pops up and guides us.”
Lockhart hopes to make a lasting impression on young adults and younger teens to go into, or at least consider, STEM.
The reserve is known for the vast rural areas of developing technological industries.
The second thing Lockhart wanted to convey to these ambitious workers was the emergence and sophistication of America’s space technology.
“People come here to study this,” he said.
According to Lockhart, the industry has come a long way in the past 50 years and has a lot to go in the next 50.
He claims that the industry’s workforce is diversifying and becoming multidisciplinary, using diverse talents and knowledge.
Lockhart said he hopes his talk today will only help the industry grow.
“There is nothing better than to get over it, and all that comes to us after our lives is making sure that we leave a strong legacy,” Lockhart said.
“If I had the opportunity to encourage some of these young people and children who are part of the Muscogee Nation, I did my job.”