Exploring STEM Opportunities and Personal Growth

Episode Art


Daring the Mighty Things: A Conversation with NASA STEM Educator Jason Dietrich

In this podcast episode, host Ed interviews Jason Dietrich, a NASA STEM educator, who shares his journey from overcoming challenges associated with Hyperlexia, a form of autism, to becoming a STEM educator and inspiring the next generation. Jason emphasizes the importance of imagination, creativity, and persistence in pursuing opportunities at NASA and in STEM fields. He discusses the role of STEM education in encouraging students to dream big and explore their creativity through hands-on learning experiences. Jason also highlights the Virginia Space Flight Academy’s programs, including space adventure camps and an online STEM academy, designed to engage students in STEM. Finally, Jason provides insights on the necessity of self-discovery, critical thinking, and embracing one’s unique talents and passions for personal and professional growth.


00:00 Introduction to the Podcast and Guest

00:08 The Power of Imagination and STEM Education

00:49 Personal Journey to NASA and Overcoming Challenges

04:39 The Role of Educators as Heroes

05:25 The Path to Becoming a NASA STEM Educator

19:47 The Impact of COVID-19 on Education and Opportunities

25:02 Engaging with STEM: Opportunities and Programs

37:43 Call to Action: Embracing Positivity and Opportunities

41:23 Closing Remarks and Contact Information

In an enlightening exchange on the Dead America Podcast, Ed Watters sits down with Jason Dietrich, a passionate STEM educator currently employed at a nonprofit organization associated with NASA, to explore the avenues of education, the power of perseverance, and the open-minded approach of NASA towards potential innovators and educators.


**Empowering Through Education**


Jason Dietrich's journey to becoming a NASA STEM educator is nothing short of inspirational. His story begins with a diagnosis of hyperlexia, a form of autism, at the age of five, demonstrating early on that challenges and distinctions can indeed be powerful motivators and not deterrents. This experience, coupled with the realization that NASA values creativity, compassion, communication, and creativity above traditional educational frameworks, serves as a beacon of hope for all aspiring to make a significant impact in their field.


**The 4 C's of A NASA Career**


Dietrich outlines the four essential attributes for anyone aspiring to work with NASA: caring, compassion, great communication, and creativity. This perspective sheds light on NASA's inclusive attitude, inviting individuals from all walks of life to contribute to their groundbreaking projects. It's not about the degrees or accolades you've accumulated; it's about how big you dare to dream and your willingness to pursue those dreams tirelessly.


**Bridging Gaps in STEM Education**


The dialogue between Watters and Dietrich also delves into the current challenges and opportunities in STEM education. Stressing the importance of hands-on learning, Dietrich illustrates how the Virginia Space Flight Academy, associated with NASA, provides an immersive educational experience for youngsters. From coding to rocketry, the academy ensures a holistic and engaging approach to learning, making STEM accessible and exciting for all.


**Lessons from a Pandemic**


Both Watters and Dietrich discuss the COVID-19 pandemic's silver lining, highlighting how challenges often present opportunities for growth and innovation. The pandemic, while a global crisis, has acted as a catalyst for many to reassess their career paths, leading to what has been termed 'The Great Resignation.' This period of reflection and transition is seen as a valuable step towards embracing new possibilities in STEM and beyond.


**A Call to Action for the Future**


In a heartening call to action, Dietrich urges individuals, especially the youth, to spend time introspecting to discover their true passions and skills. He emphasizes the importance of breaking free from the distractions of modern life to focus on personal growth and development. His parting message encourages everyone to pursue their dreams with the firm belief that challenges are merely stepping stones to greater achievements.


**Final Thoughts**


Jason Dietrich’s journey and insights serve as a powerful reminder of the transformative power of education and the importance of resilience, creativity, and compassion. His story and success as a STEM educator at NASA underscore the agency's commitment to breaking down barriers and building a more inclusive future in STEM. As we dare mighty things and explore the unknown, let Dietrich's journey inspire us all to reach for the stars, undeterred by the challenges we may face along the way.


Listeners eager to learn more about STEM opportunities or to connect with Jason Dietrich can reach out through the Virginia Space Flight Academy's website at www.vasfa.org or contact him directly via email at camp@vasfa.org.

Jason Dietrich

[00:00:00] Jason Dietrich: Yeah, absolutely. That's a wonderful question, Ed. So, in relation to, you know, how students can, you know, get involved with STEM and, you know, STEM education, you know, as I've said before, you know, if you are creative, if you can think and dream big, then, you know, NASA is the place and the opportunity for you.

[00:00:26] You know, it all starts inside of your head. And there was a quote that, uh, that was once said by a great scientist, Albert Einstein, where he said that, Imagination is everything and it's the preview to life's coming attractions. And, you know, if you think about that, that's a very, very true statement. Because if you're thinking something,

[00:00:47] you think at first, you know, where does it come from? Well, you know, believe it or not, Ed, in relation to, you know, how I got to NASA, it was because of God. He gives me, you know, these ideas, and He gives me these creative aspects to pursue and to go for. So, you know, it was thanks to, you know, God that gave me this idea and He was telling me to just go for it.

[00:01:12] Now it's not going to be easy, it's going to be an uphill battle to get to where you want to go. But again, life is not easy. But you know, I credit Him, you know, every single day. And I encourage all of the viewers that are listening to this podcast to, you know, really spend some time by yourself, really get to know yourself, really get to know your skill sets, including what's in your mind. That will really help you, uh, to pursue an incredible opportunity.

[00:01:45] Ed Watters: To overcome, you must educate. Educate not only yourself, but educate anyone seeking to learn. We are all Dead America, we can all learn something. To learn, we must challenge what we already understand. The way we do that is through conversation. Sometimes we have conversations with others, however, some of the best conversations happen with ourself. Reach out and challenge yourself; let's dive in and learn something right now.

[00:02:36] Today we're speaking with Jason Dietrich, he is a NASA STEM educator. Jason, could you please introduce yourself? Let people know just a little more about you, please.

[00:02:48] Jason Dietrich: Absolutely. Well, Ed, uh, as I said to you before, Thank you so much for having me on your podcast. It's a huge honor to be here. Uh, to all of the viewers that are listening in, uh, just a little bit about me. My name is Jason Dietrich. I currently reside in Pennsylvania, so I am all the way on the west, on, not the western coast, excuse me, the eastern coast of the United States. And I was a STEM educator for more than four years. I started out teaching during the COVID 19 pandemic, which was definitely a challenge for everybody.

[00:03:24] We all learned so much over the course of the pandemic and implemented so many uses and technology into our curriculum, uh, since the COVID 19 pandemic. But now I was very fortunate this past January to get hired at NASA. I am employed at a nonprofit organization called the Virginia Space Flight Academy, which is based in Wallops Flight Facility down in Virginia.

[00:03:54] It's probably about ten to fifteen minutes away from Chincoteague Island. So we recently had a space adventure camp this past summer, which was absolutely incredible. We did not have COVID come into our camp, which was excellent, and that was a huge sigh of relief. And I'm also currently working with our year round online STEM Academy with our other NASA STEM engagement specialist on our video game, Game On module. So it was such a dream to get to NASA, and it wasn't easy, but I am living the dream and am really enjoying all of my experiences promoting STEM engagement to the next generation of learners.

[00:04:36] Ed Watters: What you're doing is super exciting, Jason. And let's start out with, you know, the world often looks for heroes at the wrong places. I think the heroes are truly the educators, the ones reaching out to the youth and educating them. And that's selfless. And we have heroes, you know, our firefighters, first responders, military, great people. But the true heroes in my heart are the ones that educate other people, because that has the most meaning to life. If, if you don't have education, you're really not living. And that's why it's so important for people like you and what you do. So tell us, what was the journey like to get to become a NASA STEM educator?

[00:05:34] Jason Dietrich: That is a wonderful question, Ed. And you know, as I mentioned, my journey in terms of getting to NASA, it was definitely not a straight line. It was many different zigzags. It was very difficult to get there, but it was so worth it in terms of my journey. Uh, and it all started out, Ed, in relation to when I was five years old, I was diagnosed with Hyperlexia, which is a form of autism. And for those of the viewers that are listening in that might not know what hyperlexia is, Hyperlexia is involved with the Individuals with Disabilities Act that was enacted by former President George Herbert Walker Bush.

[00:06:17] He started that initiative here in the United States and then his son, President George W. Bush, implemented it further and expanded on it. But Hyperlexia is a form of autism which involves someone who has the ability to read at such a high level but struggles with reading comprehension. When I was in kindergarten, Ed, I was reading equivalent to a fifth grader and it was absolutely incredible. And when my parents noticed that I was able to read at such a high level, they were thinking that I could comprehend what I was reading. But then when they asked me in relation to, you know, a particular word or phrase, and what does that mean? I would respond by simply saying, uh, I don't know,

[00:07:06] I don't know. So even though I was able to read at such a high level, I wasn't able to comprehend what I was reading. And early on in my educational journey, I unfortunately had teachers who weren't very supportive of my skillsets and abilities. And as a result, I often struggled academically, mentally, emotionally and even physically as well. Because a lot of my teachers didn't show the support or the enthusiasm, and a lot of them were not engaged in relation to coming to any of my IEP meetings. And an IEP stands for an individualized Education Plan because that's what I was on early on in elementary school.

[00:07:47] I even had, Ed, a teacher who wrote a completely wrong evaluation about myself and my skillsets. And when I transitioned on to middle school, my teachers were like, Who is this kid? This isn't Jason at all, this is a totally different kid. So, but what really lit the spark for me, Ed, and what really ignited me to pursue STEM engagement at NASA, was my middle school teachers.

[00:08:13] They helped me to see Hyperlexia as a very tiny thing. So even though I struggled with reading comprehension, and I also struggled early on with making friends as well, they helped me to discover that Hyperlexia provided so many hidden talents that I never even knew I possessed. I am big into hands on learning and hands on activities, and I'm also a musician on the side.

[00:08:37] So it was thanks to my middle school teachers that helped to light the spark inside my head, and they helped me to see that Hyperlexia is just a very tiny thing, and they helped to build it into many more positives. And that's what I'm trying to do now, based on my current work at NASA. And it was just so meaningful, and I thank them so much for sitting down and working with me throughout my educational journey.

[00:09:03] Ed Watters: So that would be considered, on the functional side, autism. Is that correct?

[00:09:10] Jason Dietrich: Yeah, spectrum circle.

[00:09:10] Ed Watters: Yeah, very interesting.

[00:09:12] Jason Dietrich: Oh, sorry. Yeah, I was just going to say with, uh, autism, there's many different branches that are associated with it. You know, there's a circle autism, and then I'm the branch below that. So that's where Hyperlexia is. And then like Asperger's, which is another form of autism, it's right next to Hyperlexia.

[00:09:31] Ed Watters: It's the spectrum. Yes. So

[00:09:35] Jason Dietrich: Yeah.

[00:09:35] Ed Watters: it, it is interesting because I know quite a few people that suffer with autism and various other disabilities. And a lot of people don't recognize the gifts that they have because I think our society has been kind of driven towards putting [00:10:00] those types down or keeping them in a certain realm or place. You know, and once we figure out that that's just a spectrum, we can allow these people to actually flourish. You know, and the, the side of the brain that takes over is that creativity, you know, they are very creative people and hands on. So why is it that our vocational centers are not focused around this type of learning and educating? And we're stuck in that mentality of lectures, and books, and setting in the classroom for eight hours.

[00:10:51] Jason Dietrich: Yeah. That, that's, that's a wonderful question, Ed. And you know, when you asked me that question, it made me think back to when my grandmother taught and was a teacher. My grandmother taught and also was a principal. She not only was an elementary school teacher, but was a principal fifty, sixty years ago. So times have definitely changed significantly over, you know, those last several years, uh, you know, since then.

[00:11:19] So, uh, but in relation to education, what was going on, you know, back when my grandmother taught was, was that in terms of the educational resources that they had, they didn't have computers, they didn't have cell phones, uh, or, you know, any sort of technology like we do now. Uh, I remember my father used to say, uh, that my grandmother, in terms of making copies, she didn't use a copy machine to make papers.

[00:11:48] What she had to do was, was she had to use this old machine, I forget what the name of it was called, but you actually had to like spin or crank the wheel and

[00:11:59] Ed Watters: Lithograph?


[00:12:00] Jason Dietrich: Yes, that's exactly what it was. Yes. And, uh, you know, my father told me all these stories I remember about how she had to crank and, you know, her arm would get tired after a while and then she'd get

[00:12:11] Ed Watters: Yep.

[00:12:11] Jason Dietrich: grease or like oil all over her. So, um, it was, it was definitely an interesting, uh, experience but those were the resources that they had. And in relation to, you know, the last, you know, twenty, thirty years, even up to fifty years, it was through the invention of the laptop, you know, which was in the 80s and like early 90s, where people started to see a whole overarching change in relation to, you know, how we educate.

[00:12:45] People saw like the invention of the laptop as something, you know, inspiring, and life changing, and historic. So in relation to, you know, some of those teachers who might have taught at fifty, sixty years ago, they were used to having, you know, that machine, you know, that graph. And, you know, when they, when it changed into something totally new, like the laptop, it was totally out of their realm.

[00:13:15] You know, they weren't taught, you know, those concepts. And it's not their fault, it was just a different time frame. So I, I think there's, uh, from, in some ways, there's a little bit of a hesitancy and we even saw, you know, during COVID, there were a lot of teachers, uh, who taught, you know, for the last thirty, forty years who said, you know, No more. Like, uh, I'm done with this. Because, uh, with the virtual learning, they just weren't used to it.

[00:13:41] And it was, you know, something brand new that, you know, they didn't have enough experience in. And it's great that those teachers recognized that, you know, it was time to, you know, move on and, you know, not inconvenience some of the students. So it's, it's because of all of these changes that we have had, Ed, we just don't really know what the best way to educate is.

[00:14:05] We have some people who like to, uh, lecture, we have some people who like to do hands on, we have some people who like to, you know, uh, teach remotely. So it's kind of hard to agree upon an overall skillset. I know in terms of the lecture style, uh, based learning, um, Ed, the way that my grandmother taught fifty, sixty years ago, uh, that doesn't really work anymore in terms of lecturing. Uh, and the reason being is we've had so many technological advances, and there's so many different innovative techniques and ways that we can do learning, where through STEM engagement, it's important for the concepts to be hands on and not just, you know, out of the textbook.

[00:14:46] Ed Watters: I researched you a little bit, and during some of your interviews you've mentioned that working for NASA, you don't need a college education. You don't need all of these older theories. And there's four characteristics. So what are those characteristics of the individual that should apply for NASA?

[00:15:13] Jason Dietrich: Yeah. That is absolutely a wonderful question, Ed. And you know, just like you said, and I wanted to express to you and your viewers, NASA is open to anybody. So, you know, we have a place for you. If you are interested in dreaming big and, you know, as we like to say at NASA, or, you know, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is out in California, If you like to dare the mighty things, this is the place for you.

[00:15:37] But, uh, Ed, I value these four C's, which is very important for STEM engagement and it's also very important for individuals to have if they want to pursue a career at NASA. And these are the four C's. Number one, you have to be caring, you have to be compassionate, you also have to be a great communicator,

[00:15:59] and it's also very important to be creative. You have to have, uh, number one, a creative mindset. Again, there's nothing wrong with dreaming big. That is exactly what NASA is doing. If you have an idea, uh, that you want to implement at NASA, you are working with other like minded individuals who like to dream big and reach for the stars.

[00:16:23] I know for someone like me, Ed, uh, since I'm currently working at NASA, I'm daring the mighty things as well, where I'm dreaming now of being an astronaut. I want to go to the moon, and I want to go to Mars, and, you know, I just want to explore the unknown. So, and it's important, you know, too, in relation to the creativity aspect that you have. Another important thing, like I said before at the beginning is, is, you know, you have to care about it as well. Because if you don't really care about, you know, what it is that you're doing, then you're not really going to make much of an impact.

[00:16:56] So, and it's also very important to be compassionate as well. You have to know that based on your work that you're doing at NASA, you're working with other K through 12 educators, including students. And everybody learns in different ways and at different rates. So it's very important that we know how, not only the teachers, you know, teach for their students, but we also have to know, like, how do the students learn?

[00:17:24] Each new generation brings a whole new range of skill sets and abilities that allows us to ignite and blast us off into the sky. So you do have to have those things. And then, you know, also too, in relation to being a great communicator, like I said before, you have to be willing to ask for help and ask for opportunities.

[00:17:46] You have to step outside of your comfort zone. I didn't just get in at NASA because I just sat around and, you know, was just playing on my laptop watching YouTube or Netflix all day. No, what I did was I looked for those opportunities and I saw one at the Virginia Space Flight Academy. I reached out to them in a daring manner, uh, because I wanted that opportunity

[00:18:09] and I got it. You've got to want it, Ed, which is very, very important. So if you have all of those four C's in relation to those viewers that are listening right now, then the sky's the limit. You can pretty much do anything that your heart desires. And again, NASA is the place for you to do it and be at.

[00:18:29] Ed Watters: I like to see that change. You know, I've witnessed so much in my lifetime, and that is refreshing to see that the organization known as NASA is actually opening up and welcoming people in, it's refreshing to see that. You know, because really, that's where we get our true innovators.

[00:18:53] Our innovation comes from those creativities. And historically, great people, you know, Carnegie, all of these barons that built America, it wasn't easy. And they had to take those bold steps, they had to risk everything they had. I think right now in history, we're living in this time where we're going to see and witness a lot of these individuals rise up because of the hardships that we're actually enduring right now, the COVID, all of these things that just happen happened. What's your thought on that?

[00:19:42] Jason Dietrich: Yeah. I was going to say, That's, uh, that's a wonderful question, Ed. And you know, it's, in relation to, uh, the COVID 19 pandemic and especially like you said when you spoke about, uh, Carnegie and all of the brilliant innovators and minds, [00:20:00] you know, who really took a chance, the COVID 19 pandemic, as, you know, terrible as it has been for everybody and as stressful as it has been for everybody, a lot of people saw the COVID 19 pandemic as an opportunity, uh, to change.

[00:20:15] They got the opportunity to see and recognize that, you know, Well, hey, if I'm in a particular challenge or career field that I'm not really happy in and, you know, I want to pursue something else, a lot of them took that deep dive and took advantage of that. So we saw that there were a lot of people in a lot of different fields, not just with education, uh, but also like in business or health care who resigned.

[00:20:43] Uh, they also called it the great resignation because of the fact that people recognized that they wanted a new opportunity and they saw, you know, the COVID 19 pandemic as a way of helping to guide them towards a new opportunity. Because as we all very well know, Ed, there were a lot of businesses that closed because of the pandemic.

[00:21:06] A lot of businesses and companies lost thousands, millions, some even billions of dollars and you know, they went bankrupt as a result. So, uh, as a result, people had to find, you know, other new opportunities. So, this was definitely a gateway for people to step outside of their comfort zone and to try something new.

[00:21:30] However, in relation to, you know, what we've seen, you know, in education and like in the public schools, Ed, it's been very hard, you know, for all of the students, especially for those who have a disability like myself, or who are neurodiverse, or have a learning need. Because with all the virtual learning that we did, all of the students now, there are two, they are two years behind grade level.

[00:21:55] So they need our help. And, you know, with all the virtual learning that we did, it was hard for them to learn and grasp all of the important concepts that they learned in relation to school. And with all the isolation that we did, we also lost our sense of communication and also collaboration. So there was definitely some good that came with COVID, even though some might say, Oh no, it was all negative.

[00:22:21] No, there was, there was some good that came with that. But, you know, some of the negatives are, are that, you know, all of our kids and, you know, public school or, you know, private school, they need our help because they are behind on two grade levels. And from the work that I'm currently doing at NASA, we are really promoting not only hands on learning, but we are also getting the campers back

[00:22:47] into a school setting where they're able to collaborate together. Because some careers, you know, like what we do at NASA, it's hard to do remotely. Now, if there's a company or organization that can work remotely, and you know, isn't STEM related, you know, fine. But in my honest opinion, in relation to all the STEM fields, they have to be back to work.

[00:23:10] They have to be in the office because they have to collaborate and engage. And we saw a huge benefit, Ed, you know, from our camp this past summer, where thanks to the collaboration that all the campers had and for being on a NASA site, they realized that this is something that they could do. And, you know, the sky's the limit.

[00:23:30] So we have definitely seen, you know, over these last couple of years, you know, people taking chances and taking advantage of the opportunity, despite, you know, all the deaths that we had in the United States and the world. And despite all of, uh, the, um, some of the communication that we had in relation to the pandemic, not knowing what was going to come next.

[00:23:53] Ed Watters: Well, that uncertainty can actually be a prodding tool and make you act. Because a lot of people, even, even in hard times, they're stagnant and stale. And sometimes they need that prod to get them going. I think COVID was that prod for many people. So you really have to take every situation, break it down and look for the good, not the bad. Because if you're looking for the good and not bad, you're living for the good.

[00:24:26] If you're looking for the bad, you'll find it. Definitely. And that's the type of life you live. So, I always, in any situation, look for the good and then build from there. That, that builds character and, you know, like you said earlier in our conversation, You need to be bold, go and get it. That's number one. So how do kids get involved with STEM projects and the STEM education end of it?

[00:25:02] Jason Dietrich: Yeah, absolutely. That's, that's a wonderful question, Ed. So, uh, in relation to, you know, how, uh, students can, you know, get involved with STEM and, you know, STEM education, you know, as I've said before, you know, If you are creative, if you can think and dream big,

[00:25:18] then, you know, NASA is the place and the opportunity for you. You know, it all starts inside of your head. And there was a quote that, uh, that was once said by a great scientist, Albert Einstein, where he said that, Imagination is everything and it's the preview to life's coming attractions. And, you know, if you think about that, that's a very, very true statement.

[00:25:40] Because if you're thinking something, you think at first, you know, where does it come from? Well, you know, believe it or not, Ed, in relation to, you know, how I got to NASA, it was because of God. He gives me, you know, these ideas and He gives me these creative aspects to pursue and to go for.

[00:26:01] So, you know, it was thanks to, you know, God that gave me this idea and He was telling me to just go for it. Now it's not going to be easy, it's going to be an uphill battle to get to where you want to go. But again, life is not easy. But you know, uh, I credit Him, you know, every single day. And I encourage all of the viewers that are listening to this podcast to, you know, really spend some time by yourself, really get to know yourself, really get to know your skill sets, including what's in your mind.

[00:26:32] That will really help you, uh, to pursue an incredible opportunity. Uh, but for anybody who's interested in checking out Virginia Space Flight Academy and getting involved with STEM education, and Ed, I will definitely send you that link as well, what the viewers can do is, is they can go to www.vasfa.org.

[00:26:56] So again, that's www.vasfa.org. And you'll be able to see on our website, there's different programs that you can get involved with. For example, our space adventure camp. Our space adventure camp is out of this world, where there are campers that come and they get to experience being on a NASA flight facility base. And they get to stay in dorms and collaborate with other like minded, uh, campers in order to see what opportunities you get to promote

[00:27:31] in STEM and see different ways that you can get involved. And you actually get to hear real life NASA scientists, engineers, and mathematicians who have gone through the long stretch in terms of getting to where they are today. And they again have said it wasn't easy, but they just stuck with it and they persisted.

[00:27:51] And that's what's definitely key. And we actually focus on, Ed, at our camp, we do drones, coding, rocketry, and robotics. And it's all hands on. Because again, STEM education nowadays, it has to be hands on. You know, I am someone who has an eidetic memory, who learns best visually. So there's a lot of learners that learn best visually.

[00:28:15] So that is definitely something that we do. And for others who also want to get involved, we also have a year round online STEM academy. So there is another program link that you can go to, and the STEM academy is actually year round. So we offer different module opportunities in STEM that enable you to continue to engage your mind and to help you to explore the unknown things. I have worked with another NASA STEM engagement specialist on a video game, Game On module, that we're actually going to be teaching in the next week and a half or so. We're very, very excited about that. And, you know, as we like to say, Don't just play games, make them. So we're actually

[00:29:00] Ed Watters: Yeah.

[00:29:00] Jason Dietrich: teaching, uh, all of the students some very cool, you know, STEM aspects through our year round online STEM Academy. And then our Space Adventure Camp registration opens up in January of 2024. So definitely keep your eyes peeled for that. And then you can also sign up for our newsletter as well, which will enable you to receive all of the cool updates from the Virginia Space Flight Academy. So there's many different cool opportunities, Ed, to get involved with through there. And a lot of our campers that have gone through our camp too, they've also come back as the camp counselor because they want to go and inspire the next generation of youth learners as well. And a lot of our campers, they have come through multiple times. Some have come two, three, four, five, even six years. So, and, you know,

[00:29:51] Ed Watters: Right on.

[00:29:51] Jason Dietrich: we would, we would say that in relation to, you know, all the campers that have gone through our camp, we would say, you know, You were here last [00:30:00] year, but you're here again. That's awesome, but you're getting the same curriculum, you know, why, why is that? Why are you back? And we say the same exact, we hear the same exact response, they love the community. And that's what really matters. It's, it's not just about, you know, STEM engagement, but you also have to love the community.

[00:30:19] And all of the students that are ages eleven through sixteen years old that participate in our Space Adventure Camp, they love the community, they love the outreach, and they love the common purpose that we serve. So there's an opportunity for anybody there, and I definitely encourage everyone to take a look there.

[00:30:38] Ed Watters: Yeah, it's a well rounded program. So let me ask, Within the programs, like the robotic and the programming sector, do they interact with each other and, you know, have, like, educational engagement together? Because the two, the two obviously go together. You know, programming goes with robotics, robotics needs programming. So, how does that work?

[00:31:13] Jason Dietrich: Yeah. That is a wonderful question, Ed. So, in relation to our camps, what we offer and what the overall curriculum is, we have a base camp during the summer, which typically runs for four weeks. And we have a different group of students that come each week for our base camp. And pretty much what we offer for our base camp,

[00:31:35] these are some of the featured academics that we have. All of the students, first of all, with stem, they get to design, build and launch model rockets. So they get to work with rocketry where they get to design and build and launch their own. And they also design, build, and program robots for specific tasks utilizing Lego Spike Prime with scratch and python coding languages. So we try to incorporate different coding aspects like Scratch and Python coding into robotics.

[00:32:09] Because again, there's so many different coding languages that we have, you know, today, and we definitely want to expose all of our campers to those different kinds of languages. So that is definitely something that the campers for our base camp do. They also get to safely operate drones, where they get to go through an obstacle course where they get to fly their own drone and they get to experience, you know, without looking at the obstacle course, they have to best navigate their way and try their best to figure out, you know, how to get through certain hoops.

[00:32:44] Because again, the objective is to get the most amount of points possible. So that is pretty much what we do for our base camp. And then for our advanced camps, we have two weeks of that. Uh, for week five, typically, that camp is our week five aerospace or rocketry camp. So all of the students that come to this camp, we primarily focus on model rocketry and drone operation.

[00:33:11] And these students take a deeper dive in relation to the camp, where they focus on CAD and 3D printing, rocket flight simulation, they also try to launch a rocket with a multi sensor payload as well. So it's a lot more challenging, but these campers have had experience building rockets before. So it's definitely for someone, if you want to be challenged and come to an advanced camp, you have to have experience in rocketry for that week camp.

[00:33:42] And then our last week adventure camp, for week six, it's coding and robotics. So we actually do a deep dive into coding and robotics for that week. And pretty much for the featured academics that we do there, the students get introduced to Arduino coding, which at first I didn't know what that was.

[00:34:03] But after seeing it, it was a very complex program that again, I was blown away and impressed by the students knowledge and capabilities there. But the students get to build and code Arduino based robots and they also get to safely program and operate drones. So that is pretty much, you know, in a nutshell, what we do at, you know, Virginia Space Flight Academy.

[00:34:26] But we also give, you know, all of our campers the opportunity to go on tours to many of our different aerospace facilities as well, and they get to see all of our tour partners as well. So, and nothing, um, gets me more proud, Ed, you know, to say when students are going like, Whoa, that is so cool, and you know, they are smiling based on, uh, the language.

[00:34:48] Ed Watters: Yep.

[00:34:48] Jason Dietrich: But, you know, in relation to, you know, our academic set, we focus primarily on hands on learning. We don't focus on the grades as much. We like to focus on the learning and the growth because we want our students to be challenged, and we want them to collaborate together, and we want them to grow. So it's from those experiences. That's why, you know, again, we have campers coming back and it's, it's just an incredible camp experience. And we also got to see, on top of that, this past summer, we got to see a rocket launch, too. I was two miles from the launch pad, and that just was such

[00:35:24] Ed Watters: Wow.

[00:35:24] Jason Dietrich: a cool and life changing experience.

[00:35:28] Ed Watters: Heck, yeah. Yeah, it's interesting, all of it. And, you know, getting kids interested early, that's the key. So you mentioned there is sort of prerequisite on the advanced classes. What about the beginning classes? What kind of prerequisite is involved there?

[00:35:50] Jason Dietrich: Yeah, that's a great question. So in terms of our prerequisites for our beginning classes that we have for our base camp, pretty much it is open to anybody.

[00:36:03] It doesn't matter what sort of prerequisite requirements that you have. If you have coding, rocketry, drones, experience, then you can certainly come and join that camp, it doesn't matter what the skillset level or abilities are. If you are interested in space, uh, and you want to try something new, that is the camp for you.

[00:36:26] For our advanced camps, you know, though, like I said, it's important to have, you know, some background experience. If you're coming to the advanced rocketry camp, you had to have experience, you know, building a rocket, you got to know how the mechanics work. Uh, and then, you know, same thing too, if you come to the advanced coding and robotics camp, you have to have some sort of experience, you know, with coding. Because if you come to the advanced camp and let's say you have no experience in either rocketry, coding, and robotics,

[00:36:55] then you're going to fall behind. And, you know, that's not going to be a very fun experience for, you know, any of the camp staff, like myself, who worked this past summer. It's also not going to be fun for the student and it's also not going to be fun for the family either. So, but if you are someone who is curious and who wants to come, you know, for the first time, I would definitely check out the base camp to start.

[00:37:18] However, if you have challenged yourself enough and you want to come to the advanced camp for rocketry, or coding and robotics and you have the experience, then come to the advanced camp. There's an opportunity for everybody.

[00:37:34] Ed Watters: Yeah, that's awesome. So Jason, do you have a call to action for our listeners today?

[00:37:43] Jason Dietrich: Yes, absolutely. Um, my biggest, uh, call to action that I have, uh, for you, Ed and your listeners is, is just, the big thing that you have to do, and this is something that I did, you know, when I was little is, is that, you know, don't get, uh, sucked in, especially with, you know, social media or, you know, or, you know, technology itself. Please make sure that you spend time by yourself, uh, because it's very important that you get to know your skillsets and you get to know, uh, your abilities as well.

[00:38:19] You know, there's a lot of distractions Ed, that we have, you know, in our present world, you know, today with, you know, social media. There was a lot of, you know, nonsense or controversies around, you know, COVID that were spreading around, especially about, you know, the vaccines as well. There were so many different perspectives.

[00:38:39] And, you know, there's also, you know, in terms of the news, you know, with the war that's going on in Ukraine right now, um, that, you don't want to get sucked into that. Don't get sucked into all that negativity. If that doesn't apply to what you want to do or your career, don't focus on that. Don't, you know, get all nervous about that,

[00:39:01] uh, you know, it's totally out of your control. What we primarily do Ed, at Virginia Space Flight Academy is, and at NASA, we definitely break through the negativity barriers. So we help to promote positivity in multiple different aspects. I really don't watch the news anymore. I also am not on social media as much because with getting sucked into all of this, you know, negativity at times, it can really distract us from who we really are as people.

[00:39:33] Uh, because God created each and every single one of us in His own special way and His own special light. So, I am very fortunate to currently work at NASA and there's other plans that I definitely want to do and that He has for us. So, always spend time, make sure that you spend some time by yourself.

[00:39:57] Make sure you limit yourself from any distractions that are not [00:40:00] relevant to you and start to focus on, you know, the positives with yourself and whatever comes in your imagination, whatever your big thought that comes in is, you go for that. Because that is definitely something that you are curious about.

[00:40:16] And please don't give up on that. You know, it takes time in order to get to your dream job or to your dream career. So don't think after a week, if it doesn't work out, well, I'm just going to give up and quit. No, the main guarantee that you know that a dream is not going to happen is, is if you quit. So, just make sure that after you spend time by yourself and you know what is inside your head with your imagination, rely on God, ask Him for guidance, and He will get you there.

[00:40:47] He'll put you through some challenges, but it'll make you stronger and it'll make you more prepared for what you will be receiving at the end of the road. So even though there's a lot of negativity, Ed, you know, going on on social media and on the news nowadays, just like I said, Don't get sucked into it. But just focus on you, and focus on the positive and your dreams, and, you know, the sky's the limit.

[00:41:13] Ed Watters: That is solid advice. I love it. And it's a good call to action for people. Don't get sucked in. It's amazing. Jason, it's awesome what you're doing out there, and how can people get a hold of you, get involved with you, and reach out to you?

[00:41:34] Jason Dietrich: Absolutely. Well, Ed, what I can certainly do is, I can, I will definitely send to you the link to get involved with Virginia Space Flight Academy. So again, for any of the viewers that are listening currently, what you can do is, is again, you can go to www. vasfa. org to check out the Virginia Space Flight Academy website and webpage. I think you're going to be blown away by all the graphics that we have and all the opportunities that we have. We are looking for more partners to partner up with us because it is our 25th year anniversary this year.

[00:42:09] We've been around since 1998. So, and I believe around that time I was two years old, I was learning to walk. So, uh, it's very cool to, you know, see how much, you know, Virginia Space Flight Academy has grown, uh, over the years and we are continuing to grow from there. So, like I said, with the partners, you know, we are looking for other like minded people and groups who are willing to make a difference in STEM engagement and to not be hesitant to reach out to us.

[00:42:39] We are also looking for donations as well, we are looking to raise up to 25, 000 dollars based on our 25th year anniversary for this year. And for anybody who's interested in contacting me, or connecting with me, I will also send you my email as well to you ED, that you can provide to your viewers. But my email is camp,

[00:43:01] C, A, M, P @ V, A, S, F, A. org. So again, it's camp@vasfa.org. So if anybody has any questions, or if anybody wants to be mentored, or need some advice from my end in terms of how to pursue a cool STEM engagement career like at the Virginia Space Academy, or anywhere else in NASA, or in STEM, please don't hesitate to reach out.

[00:43:28] I want to hear your story, I want to hear what motivates you and what excites you to get up in the morning every single day. Because I'm excited, Ed, every single time I wake up in the morning based on my work at NASA. I know that I can't wait to educate the next generation of youth learners. So those are, you know, many cool opportunities that you can feel free to check out.

[00:43:51] But please don't hesitate to contact me with any questions or, you know, concerns as well. And we will certainly, you know, touch base and I look forward to seeing the next generation step up. And, you know, if you have a learning disability like myself, just because you might have a learning disability, Ed, that doesn't mean that you can't work at NASA, all right?

[00:44:16] So the sky's the limit. You try to look at the positives, you know, rather than, uh, the negatives. So we are sensory inclusive certified as well, VASFA, so we've opened it up to anybody who has a learning disability. And I consider, you know, Ed, a disability, I don't like the word, uh, dis. That is often negative, and I'm trying to change

[00:44:38] Ed Watters: Exactly.

[00:44:39] Jason Dietrich: society's overall perception of a disability. Uh, because there's a lot more that comes with it. So, we have to stop the judging and, you know, say, you know, Hey, this person has Hyperlexia or autism, they're not going to be beneficial or successful. Well, how do you know? I mean, you don't know

[00:44:57] Ed Watters: Exactly.

[00:44:58] Jason Dietrich: my skillsets. You don't know my abilities. So that is definitely something that we are trying to do as well. So if you're someone, like myself, who wants to work at NASA and who has a learning disability, look into your skillsets, look into, you know, what your passion is in stem, and go for it. So that's, that's what I say, uh, in relation to anybody who's interested, uh, with NASA and how you can contact us.

[00:45:26] Ed Watters: That's awesome, Jason. It's, it's been a pleasure having you here and thank you so much for sharing here on the Dead America Podcast with us.

[00:45:37] Jason Dietrich: Ed, uh, like I said, It was, uh, such an honor and very exciting, uh, to be on. Uh, so thank you so much for having me. And, you know, like we say at NASA, Let's dare the mighty things and let's explore the unknown.

[00:45:55] Ed Watters: Thank you for joining us today. If you found this podcast enlightening, entertaining, educational in any way, please share, like, subscribe and join us right back here next week for another great episode of Dead America Podcast. I'm Ed Waters, your host, enjoy your afternoon wherever you may be.

Website link: https://www.vasfa.org

Other social media handle links for VASFA:

  1. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/VaSpaceFlightAcademy
  2. Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/clarinetman114/
  3. Twitter: @VaSpaceAcademy