Rice and Houston ISD partner to launch planetary science education program for K-12 students and teachers

Illustration of the Solar System. NASA


Rice University and the Houston Independent School District (HISD) will collaborate on a space and planetary science pilot program to inspire the next generation of Earth, planetary and space enthusiasts and professionals.

The Rice and HISD Planetary and Space Exploration Education Project will engage HISD students through interwoven programming designed to spark their curiosity and deepen their understanding of space and planetary processes and observations, said principal investigator Rajdeep Dasgupta, the Maurice Ewing Professor of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences.

The pilot program recently received $963,000 via the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2024, H.R. 4366. Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas) secured funding for the effort, specifically requesting it through the bipartisan Community Funded Projects process for the fiscal year 2024.

The program aims to cultivate a skilled workforce to support future missions and the burgeoning commercial space industry by partnering with local industry leaders, including NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Principal investigator Rajdeep Dasgupta. Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University.

Rice undergraduate and graduate students, trained in effective communication strategies and teaching methods, will visit HISD classrooms, while university faculty will provide innovative learning experiences and lectures at Rice throughout the year.

“The program will offer HISD students a variety of enrichment programs, including campus visits and research internships,” said co-principal investigator Carolyn Nichol, director of the Rice Office of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Engagement.

Moreover, Rice faculty and researchers from the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences will use their expertise to provide professional development for HISD science teachers.

“In the 21st century, learners have evolved from students, who learn from traditional teaching practices of note taking and didactic instruction, to scholars that master content through experiential learning,” said Omar E. Elizondo, grants and magnet programs manager at HISD. “When engaged and invested in their education, they will work harder, are more likely to care and will develop an intrinsic motivation to set goals and achieve them.”

This year marks the second year of funding for the project with initial support provided by a similar Community Funded Project request for fiscal year 2023, submitted by Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas).