by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education
Now, this is a Fort Collins-related flight story worthy media coverage.
I’ve heard several times about the Fort Collins High School (FCHS) graduate who is an astronaut. On Monday, November 9, an article appeared in both the Coloradoan and the Denver Post announcing that when Astronaut Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger (FCHS, Class of 1993) flies on the shuttle in March of 2010, she will carry with her a stuffed lamb, the mascot of FCHS, named Clyde who will be dressed in a homemade, gold-lamé flight suit.
Metcalf-Lindenburger represents what can happen when you follow dreams: she was a science teacher who told her students that she wanted to be an astronaut. As only kids can, they replied to her, “Why don’t you become an astronaut?” Instead of making excuses and listing reasons she couldn’t, Metcalf-Lindenburger applied and was accepted into NASA’s Astronaut Training Program. In just a few short months, she’ll become the first Lambkin in space.
I find this significant because Metcalf-Lindenburger succeeded at STEM-based education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in our local school district, which provided her the foundation for her college studies as well as her time in NASA’s Astronaut Training Program. Studies have shown that U.S. students in fourth grade rank high in academic performance in math and science when compared with other industrialized nations. That ranking consistently drops as students progress through the grades. By twelfth grade, U.S. students’ academic performance in math and science is poor when compared with other industrialized nations; our ranking is near the bottom of the lists, some of which number over 40 countries.
Other statistics address the change in STEM education performance by U.S. girls as they progress in school. Studies have shown that girls perform as well as, if not better, than boys in STEM-based education in elementary school. This begins to change in sixth grade and by the time girls graduate from high school, they are significantly underperforming in math and science when compare to boys.
It is important to note that underperformance, by both U.S. students generally as well as girls specifically, is not a result of lack of aptitude. Metcalf-Lindenburger clearly had aptitude, a desire to learn, and a community of teachers (not to mention family) that helped her to not just perform well in STEM education, but to excel and apply those skills to a profession that requires exceptional STEM abilities.
Congratulations on your pending space flight, Ms. Metcalf-Lindenburger! You can be sure that we here at the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center will be using your story to encourage youth to follow their dreams and work hard at their math and science classes in school. By the way, would you consider bringing Clyde to the Museum for a visit after your mission? I think I can get you in for free.
U.S. Department of Education, National Digest of Education Statistics
 National Science Foundation
*image courtesy of The Denver Post