HOUSTON – 03 June 11
APU Student Develops Space Age MODules
By: Heather L. Ogletree
Almost everything today is only a click away. The internet provides convenient and on-demand services to people who want what they want or need when they want or need it, including online degrees and classes. According to the Sloan Consortium’s annual online education report in 2009, 4.6 million college students had enrolled in at least one online course in the previous year, and this number continues to rise. Even while in class, many students look to their smart phones to find answers and the internet has become one of the top used resources for research. As far as corporate and government education, they have followed suit, combining in-class learning experiences with online training courses.
At NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, one of the initiatives of the Mission Operations Directorate (MOD) is to develop web-based training for flight controllers, astronauts and instructors. This spring, Alina Zater joined forces with NASA Mentor Valerie Gordon through the Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP) to take part in a 15 week hands-on project reviewing and developing web-based distance learning modules for MOD.
Zater understands the need for web-based learning; she attends the American Public University, which is 100% online while homeschooling her daughter. She said, “The project that I have been assigned has allowed me to combine my teaching experience, my distance learning student experience as well as my Russian speaking skills in one package.” Zater is originally from Ukraine, but immigrated to the United States when she was 9-years-old. “My love for space can be traced all the way back to my great grandfather,” revealed Zater. “He was a test pilot in the Russian military. My uncle worked as an engineer under Korolyov and my mother worked as a chemist within the Russian Space Agency, developing protective shielding for rockets. I grew up having the itch for space in my blood.”
Now at JSC, she has been able to use her computer engineering knowledge and her Russian background to contribute to the future of NASA web-based training. “One of my projects consisted of recording a glossary that could be referred to if a student desired to hear the proper Russian pronunciation of a Russian acronym,” said Zater. “Another project consisted of utilizing new software and developing an interactive lesson which teaches...how to properly...evaluate new flight controllers and instructors.” It was Zater’s job to add the interactive enhancements, to review and troubleshoot the lesson. She was also able to attend the MOD Training Academy, which gave her further insight into onsite instruction versus the online experience she was helping to create. She noted, “We work hand-in-hand with engineers and instructors to ensure that our material is accurate and presented in the best way possible. This allowed me to take the physical lesson before developing the web-based version.”
When asked what she liked best about her USRP internship she exclaimed, “Everything! I loved the opportunities to be put into situations that stretched and developed me as a person, as a student and as an employee. I love the fact that I have learned skills that will stay with me forever! [This] enabled me to receive hands-on experience of the subjects that I am currently studying. Most of all, I loved the amazing people that I have been able to meet and grow from.”
So what’s next for Zater? Her time at NASA has inspired her to pursue a master’s of science degree in space studies, and she hopes to one day end up back at JSC with MOD, or as she calls them, her “family.”