NASA Astronaut Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger speaks to students in the STEM magnet program at Rex Mill Middle. (Staff Photo: Johnny Jackson)
REX — Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger impressed students with her ability to speak Russian.
A student asked if she could, and she responded in the foreign language telling a bit about herself and her family.
The skill is necessary in the Colorado-native’s line of work. She is an astronaut for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and knowing a little Russian came in handy during her April 2010 Discovery mission to resupply the International Space Station.
Metcalf-Lindenburger told her story Tuesday to seventh-graders at Rex Mill Middle.
The students are participants in the school’s magnet program centered on a science, technology, engineering and math curriculum.
She was invited to the school as part of a partnership with the Georgia Department of Education and its “Girls’ Adventures in STEM” presentations and workshop series. She was joined by Gilda Lyon, the department’s STEM coordinator. The pair also visited Warner Robins Middle in Houston County.
Metcalf-Lindenburger was featured just the day before in the Girls’ Adventures in STEM workshop at Kennesaw State University. She spoke to middle school girls, including 25 from Rex Mill Middle.
Monday’s event was designed to spark interest among girls in potential STEM careers. Seventh-grade boys joined the mix during her visit to Rex Mill Middle Tuesday.
Students Abril Barrera, Victory Bankole and Dranae Clark said they were inspired to pursue science-oriented careers. None of them ruled out becoming astronauts.
Metcalf-Lindenburger said her route to becoming an astronaut began when she was their age, enjoying the occasional visits to Denver Museum of Nature and Science and admiring the cosmic shows at the planetarium.
“When I was your age, I wanted to be an astronaut,” she told students. “I started reading National Geographic and planet books.”
She grew up and earned a degree from Whitman College and teaching certification from Central Washington University. And she taught earth science and astronomy five years at Hudson’s Bay High School in Vancouver, Wash., before being selected as a mission specialist at NASA in May 2004.
Metcalf-Lindenburger participated in a mission to the International Space Station and remarked about the experience to students.
“It was very humbling,” she said. “It makes you feel kind of small, but very privileged to live on such a beautiful planet. And you just want to take care of it.”
Janice Mitchell was glad to hear from the astronaut. She is a seventh-grade science teacher in the STEM magnet program at Rex Mill Middle.
“I loved the visit, and I loved the video that showed the different nationalities and genders,” said Mitchell. “It demonstrates that anybody can be an astronaut. Also, the kids are able to see how the science they’re learning today builds to the science they’re using in space.”
Principal Camille Murner said she hopes to see more experiences where STEM-career professional interact with students, particularly with girls who are not traditionally guided to science and math-oriented fields.
“As we start to move toward a STEM-focused school, we’re trying to expose the non-traditional STEM students to those areas,” said Murner.
“In order to find out what we truly want to do, we’ve got to be exposed to many things,” she continued. “Too often we don’t expose students to their true strengths. But some of our greatest thinkers are not typical and are those who think outside the box.”
Murner said experiences such as Tuesday’s visit from Metcalf-Lindenburger are helping change a long-lived paradigm for students, parents and teachers. The change is taking place at a school of 1,100 students and 240 STEM magnet program pupils who come from around Clayton County.
“I think it needs to be said that it takes bold thinkers and leaders to allow schools to do this,” said Murner.