Monday, June 17, 2024

UTSA, WEX Foundation awarded $800K NASA grant for unique space education program

UTSA, WEX Foundation awarded $800K NASA grant for unique space education program

UTeachSA trains UTSA students to become highly qualified STEM teachers by offering unique opportunities for undergraduates majoring in math and science fields.

JUNE 14, 2024 — Starting this fall, San Antonio middle school students will have a unique opportunity to design, build and test lunar lava tube habitat models made in afterschool programs with recyclable materials and simple supplies. These students are part of a new four-year program that was created through a grant and partnership between NASA and the WEX Foundation, a local nonprofit dedicated to STEM education, in partnership with UTeachSA, UTSA’s teacher recruitment and training program.

The after-school students taking part in this fall’s program will get help with their habitats through the use of multimedia resources like “Career Chats,” where students will have the opportunity to talk with STEM professionals who work in space exploration including guest speakers from NASA, Southwest Research Institute, UTSA, Texas A&M and Blue Origin. At the end of the semester, student teams will compete against each other for the best lunar lava tube habitat.

The work will be funded by an $800,000 NASA grant to UTeachSA and the WEX Foundation to promote STEM-based education in the space industry. The grant will fund UTeachSA’s participation in the WEX Foundation’s New Worlds Await You-Next Generation (NWAY II) program, a project-based learning curriculum that aims to develop and implement a model to train UTSA student teachers in space and NASA concepts.

The space habitat project is one way that the WEX Foundation and UTeachSA are reaching out to middle school students from the YMCA of Greater San Antonio, who are typically underrepresented in STEM fields to encourage awareness of accessible STEM and space science.

Meanwhile, the student teachers leading the program are increasing their confidence in their careers. The program encourages proficiency in STEM-based, space education with a focus on hands-on, problem-based-learning activities.

“It is an important time for us to inspire a new generation of stargazers who want to learn more beyond our Earth.”

UTeachSA is a collaborative effort between the UTSA College of Sciences and the UTSA College of Education and Human Development. The program is designed to train highly qualified STEM teachers by offering unique opportunities for undergraduates majoring in math and science fields. By offering compact degree plans, early teaching experiences, guidance by experienced teachers, and financial assistance, UTeachSA provides a platform for raising the quantity and quality of math and science teachers in local schools.

A critical part of developing STEM-based education in the space industry is cultivating the next generation of students who are interested in STEM, and specifically in space exploration and research. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are an estimated 42,200 job openings for middle and 67,100 job openings high school teachers for a total of over 109,000 job openings for both across the nation.

According to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), over 50% of new Texas teachers entering the classroom post-pandemic are lacking the standard certification, pointed out Carey Walls, associate director of UTeachSA.

UTSA hopes to change that trend.

Key to this mission is training the teachers who will foster students’ interest in the space industry, added Walls.

“It is an important time for us to inspire a new generation of stargazers who want to learn more beyond our Earth,” she said. “It is often through a fascination in space that a love of exploring and wonder ignites a passion for math and science. Students at all levels can contribute to our future space research if we ignite that sense of wonder early enough.”

UTeachSA’s partnership with the WEX Foundation provides an opportunity to train teacher candidates in the latest NASA-supported STEM-based learning models for space education in local middle schools. All UTSA students pursuing a secondary teaching certification, regardless of subject, will be eligible to serve in the role and receive training from NASA.

Following the training, UTSA student teachers will be placed in the NWAY II regional network of underserved middle schools in the greater San Antonio area to promote STEM-based education.

Discover how UTSA faculty are assisting NASA on a next generation space telescope.
Explore UTeachSA.
Learn more about the UTSA College of Sciences.

“Select UTeachSA students will be able to boost their resumes by receiving training in the latest NASA-supported space education concepts and collaborative learning and teaching strategies for middle school students,” Walls said. “They will also implement the NWAY II project-based learning curriculum in local after school programs, which provide them with experience in leading a group of students with hands-on activities focused on space exploration and other STEM topics.”

“Thanks to the UTeachSA program, I feel fully prepared to enter the classroom and make a difference in students’ lives,” said Tara McLeod ’23, who graduated with her bachelor’s degree in Multidisciplinary Sciences. “The UTeachSA program was my college family, and I am forever grateful for the opportunities it gave me.”

Walls added, “The project uses innovative, project-based teaching methods to promote learning about space in an engaging, hands-on way that makes STEM subjects exciting and accessible, advancing the next generation into STEM careers centered on aerospace subject matter. The project also encompasses a groundbreaking educational research project on STEM-based space education and teacher efficacy.”

Louise Cantwell, WEX Foundation executive director, also touted the partnership. “We congratulate UTSA in sharing this award and applaud UTSA President Taylor Eighmy’s unwavering commitment to cutting-edge education and pedagogical research,” Cantwell said. “We are proud to be your NASA partner in developing the next diverse and inclusive generation of space science teachers, innovators, entrepreneurs and leaders in our nation’s space exploration enterprise.”

Ryan Schoensee

UTSA Today is produced by University Strategic Communications,
the official news source
of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

Send your feedback to

UTSA Today is produced by University Communications and Marketing, the official news source of The University of Texas at San Antonio. Send your feedback to Keep up-to-date on UTSA news by visiting UTSA Today. Connect with UTSA online at Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Instagram.




University of Texas at San Antonio receives ‘transformational’ $40M gift

UTSA’s Mission

The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.

UTSA’s Vision

To be a premier public research university, providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.

UTSA’s Core Values

We encourage an environment of dialogue and discovery, where integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and innovation are fostered.

UTSA’S Destinations

UTSA is a proud Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) as designated by the U.S. Department of Education .

Our Commitment to Inclusivity

The University of Texas at San Antonio, a Hispanic Serving Institution situated in a global city that has been a crossroads of peoples and cultures for centuries, values diversity and inclusion in all aspects of university life. As an institution expressly founded to advance the education of Mexican Americans and other underserved communities, our university is committed to promoting access for all. UTSA, a premier public research university, fosters academic excellence through a community of dialogue, discovery and innovation that embraces the uniqueness of each voice.