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Community Team Led by WEX Foundation to Develop Out-of-School Space-STEM Education Programs

San Antonio, TX - July 7, 2016 - WEX Foundation and the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) San Antonio Prefreshman Engineering Program (SA PREP) have teamed together with the Challenger Learning Center/Scobee Education Center, the Texas Alliance for Minorities in Education (TAME), Steuck & Associates, and with Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) to develop Space-STEM education projects. The $1.24M grant awarded to the team by NASA will be used to develop a "Lunar Caves Analog Test Sites (LCATS)" program for science investigations, space exploration mission operations, technology development, and habitability system architectures for Space STEM learning performance. LCATS goals include preparing and encouraging underrepresented minorities, female and economically disadvantaged students to pursue higher education and careers in human space exploration.

LCATS logo
The LCATS program will work with SA PREP in lower-income and high-needs communities to identify participants and impact their education and career trajectories. Student cohorts will participate in a potential three year experience to address space architecture technology challenges for an actual commercial lunar exploration, mining, and human settlement project. The Lunar Ecosystem and Architectural Prototype (LEAP2) is a commercial program being developed by a consortium of aerospace industry organizations investigating technologies for lunar settlement, with a focus on the Marius Hills Skylight which is a large lunar subsurface feature believed to be the opening to a lunar lava tube cave useful for eventual human habitation. LEAP2 will provide the context for students in LCATS to experience growth phases of a site development program - remote sensing and satellite missions, site characterization and reconnaissance mission scenarios of robotic and crewed missions, and finally space architecture designs for eventual habitation and human settlement. In this STEM engagement project, local Texas caves are utilized as analog environments for fielding student experiments and technology challenges through simulated mission operations. Intensive "hacker" workshops employing collaborative knowledge, critical thinking, and problem solving are conducted for SA PREP student teams led by PREP Instructors and Program Assistant Mentors (undergraduate STEM interns) acting as team mentors/team leaders and supported by professional subject matter experts to guide students in development of innovative hands-on applications that provide practical solutions for lunar mission architecture challenges.

Principal Investigator (PI) and Board Chair of the WEX Foundation, Sam Ximenes, said "we are encouraged by the level of community support we have received for implementing our LCATS program. We were one of n ine proposals selected from 73 applications through a peer reviewed process for NASA's Competitive Program for Science Museums, Planetariums and NASA Visitor Centers Plus Other Opportunities. Being selected by NASA further validates our STEM education model for inspiring the next generation of scientists and explorers, to develop a STEM educated workforce for the community".

Co-PI Dr. Raul (Rudy) Reyna, Executive Director of UTSA PREP said "this project provides a unique opportunity for the proven SA PREP, a formal summer opportunity to extend services to targeted students year-round in an informal STEM club setting and addresses the need to increase students who are underrepresented in STEM populations' awareness of Space-STEM based professions".
Co-Investigator Joules Webb, Associate Director of UTSA PREP, is inspired that LCATS' real-world experiences guided by Space-STEM subject matter experts will be effective in addressing barriers that prevent many minorities and women from becoming interested and engaged in STEM, including those with low English proficiency and those with limited exposure to role models.
About WEX Foundation

WEX Foundation, is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization based in San Antonio, TX. It advances middle and high school education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects by integrating space exploration technology with project-based learning, with the ultimate goal of creating a robust space technology workforce that will enable people to live on other planets. Follow us on Facebook.

The San Antonio Prefreshman Engineering Program (PREP) was founded in 1979 by mathematics professor, Dr. Manuel P. Berriozábal, at The University of Texas at San Antonio. Replication of SA PREP began in 1986 with sites throughout the state of Texas (TexPREP). Since 1997, with a grant award from NASA, PREP continued its replication in Hispanic-serving  institutions nationwide (PREP-USA). PREP allows students at the middle and high school level to attend classes in college classrooms, work in college computer labs, and be tutored and supervised by undergraduate students hired as mentors. SA PREP has a successful track record in attracting students into the fields of STEM and providing a rigorous academic program to minorities and women, and economically disadvantaged students.