In-Depth Report

Space Schools Fuel Bright Future in New York

Patrick Chase
Feb 06 2022
New York is home to an extensive and potent statewide constellation of space sector colleges, universities, and K-12 schools. This network is the foundation for future growth of the states’ space capabilities. Resources include on campus planetariums enriching K-12 classrooms, top notch advanced degree programs, and hundreds of active student groups.

Every region of the state benefits from having these institutions in their communities. Partnerships with private businesses, extensive community programming, and enhanced educational offerings for the next generation of New Yorkers are just some of the direct, tangible benefits the academic space sector has on our daily lives.

Empire Space believes this academic network is key to our future in the New Space Age. Cutting edge research capabilities and innovative K-college programs will enable New York to remain engaged with the leading space players and attract talented individuals and companies to study and do business here. Without these institutions and the resources they offer, New York would be left out of the New Space Age.

There are a total of 104 academic institutions in the Empire Space Academic Database, broken down into 3 distinct categories:

*K-12 schools with an on campus planetarium.
*Colleges & Universities offering a 4-year degree program in Astronomy, Physics, Aeronautics, or Space Science (or similar field) and/or hosting a significant space sector asset such as a planetarium, observatory, or research facility.
*Colleges & Universities participating in NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP).

All 10 regions of the state are represented in the database, in urban, rural, and suburban communities alike. The scope of higher education institutions ranges from local community colleges to flagship national universities. The extensive list of minority serving institutions that partner with NASA is only a prime example of other ways New York is well positioned to broaden access and representations in a space sector notorious for its historical lack of diversity.

There are also imbalances throughout the state that Empire Space believes should be important areas of focus moving forward. While colleges and universities are well represented across the state, K-12 planetariums are more widespread in the Hudson Valley and New York City region. There are also zero MUREP institutions outside of the three downstate regions, a disparity we hope is rectified for the benefit of all students across the state, regardless of where they live.

For the space sector in the state to grow in the years ahead, every region must have a robust and diverse mix of academic institutions active in the local space sector. This healthy mix promotes research and development, attracts and retains talent, and bolsters various sectors of economy creating high quality jobs throughout the state. There is already a strong foundation to work with.

Now it’s time to build on it.

K-12 Lays the Foundation

New York is home to a unique set of secondary schools: those that host planetariums on campus for student and community enrichment. A burst of Space Age interest in the 1960s & 70s prompted districts to add planetariums and space related facilities to their new schools, and these facilities continue to provide unparalleled inspiration and knowledge about space to the youngest New Yorkers decades later.

These facilities are in various states of repair and renovation, and it is critically important that districts continue to invest in these facilities as they age. In 2014 the community of Williamsville, outside Buffalo, rallied and secured support to replace their aging facility, which now serves 20,000 annually and offers an astounding array of programming for youth of all ages. This inspirational story demonstrates the power and value these unique space related institutions have in their communities. Empire Space hopes to see more stories like this all around New York.

These 28 schools serve as a model for the rest of the state in how to build durable, quality K-12 space STEM infrastructure that lays the foundation for future growth. We encourage all of our readers to learn about these schools, especially parents, educators, students, and members of the broader community from other regions of the state who want to bring the power of these programs to their neighborhood.

As of right now these schools are predominantly concentrated in the greater New York City area (Long Island, NYC, and Mid-Hudson) with entire regions in other parts of the state having only a handful. Empire Space believes students in every region of the state should have access to high quality space resources (such as planetariums) as a part of their curriculum. We will work to see these programs expand and multiply in the years ahead in all corners of New York!

Higher Education Anchors Regions

New York has an extensive web of colleges and universities that offer degree programs and student resources in space disciplines. Every region is home to both large private universities and local community colleges that form the backbone of the academic space pipeline in the state and are key hubs of student innovation.

Empire Space explores three separate dimensions of these academic institutions: degree programs, student groups, and space sector assets (planetariums, observatories, etc…). These categories capture the scale of opportunities available to students as well as their connection to other parts of the space sector.

Empire Space includes a broad range of degree programs under the space sector designation, including:
> Physics (including its many subcategories)
> Astronomy
> Aeronautics/Aerospace
> Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering
> Robotics
> Artificial Intelligence
> Space Science
> Air & Space Studies
> Astrobiology

There are 131 programs currently listed in the Empire Space database, including undergraduate and graduate programs, with the list growing continuously. This diverse array of academic offerings is the underpinning for the state’s space sector. New York produces thousands of graduates in space fields every year, in every region of the state, ready to contribute in some way to the New Space Age.

Many of these degree programs are tied to campus student groups, of which Empire Space is currently aware of at least 127 statewide. These groups are an amazing kaleidoscope of innovation and creativity, impossible for us to properly summarize in anything less than a full group by group breakdown.

Physics clubs, Women in STEM, Tech Ventures, Rocket Teams, aeronautics clubs, Astronomy and Observatory groups, robotics, drones, and much much more. Empire Space is only able to obtain membership information for less than half of these groups, but even that number is well over 2,500 active students across the state.

If the degree programs are the bones of the academic sector, the student groups are its beating heart. Members of these groups are motivated, curious, and industrious, and will undoubtedly become space sector leaders in the years ahead. Prioritizing the health, vibrancy, and scope of these groups is critically important to the long term success and viability of the New York space sector.

The final piece to the higher education puzzle is civic institutions, or space sector assets such as planetariums and observatories on college campuses. Empire Space currently counts 30 of these nexus points throughout the state, with 2-4 in every region. These hubs bring together degree programs, student groups, and often the broader community in a true synergy of programming and inspiration. They foster research, outreach, innovation, and are irreplaceably unique community treasures.

The higher education network is the future of the space sector in New York. It is where future leaders are learning, networking, and experimenting. It’s a source of research and innovation that fuels private sector job growth and builds the economy of tomorrow. It’s a source of community pride and a vibrant contribution to the quality of life in countless neighborhoods across the state.

MUREP Network Highlights NY Push for Diversity in Space

NASA’s MUREP (Minority University Research & Education Project) program utilizes multiple different avenues to engage with historically underrepresented populations. NASA and the space sector as a whole have suffered from gaps in representation and a lack of diversity, and MUREP is a flagship NASA program that offers grants, fellowships, internships, mentoring, and other resources to shrink those gaps and open the entire space sector to everyone.

There are 34 higher education institutions in New York that participate in MUREP, 23 of which are located in the 5 boroughs of NYC, with the rest located in either Long Island or the Mid-Hudson region. Many of these institutions are community colleges or part of the CUNY system, a contrast to the largely private institutions that dominate the broader space sector. This is a vitally important avenue for access for historically disadvantaged communities and a key foundation for future space sector growth in the state.

Long Island offers an example for how academic institutions in a region can collaborate to forge new pathways of opportunity and access in STEM and the entire space sector. In 2021 a group of higher education institutions throughout the region formed the Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) Predominately Undergraduate Institutions (PUI), a unique collaboration designed to increase teaching resources for researchers from underrepresented communities. This collaboration arose based on community feedback and could be the start of a significant pipeline of space and STEM faculty from underrepresented communities right here in New York.

Composed of both community colleges and private 4-year institutions, the collaboration is led by Stony Brook University, a leading space sector institution in its own right with a long track record of leveraging partnerships with NASA to increase minority access in space related fields. Participation from the Brookhaven National Laboratory supercharges the entire initiative with significant visibility and resources. Long Island is setting the pace for innovative new approaches to broaden access to the space sector and should serve as an inspiration and model for the entire state.

Empire Space hopes this data table serves a number of functions. We hope these institutions gain greater prominence for their programming and their work. We hope other space sector stakeholders throughout the state reach out and establish new partnerships with these organizations to further the cause of expanding opportunity. We also hope young people throughout the state, regardless of who they are or where they grew up, see a place for themselves in a college classroom pursuing a passion for space.

Empire Space also hopes MUREP affiliated institutions will eventually be accredited in every region of the state, enhancing opportunities for underrepresented communities outside of the NYC metro area to join this exciting new chapter in space.

The Path Ahead

New York hosts a diverse and vibrant academic network that serves as the lifeblood of the space ecosystem. While there is tremendous work going on currently, the future holds even more potential for exciting and transformative growth.

The foundation is strong. Dozens of K-12 schools with A+ space programs, dozens of MUREP institutions opening new doors for diverse populations of New Yorkers, and dozens of higher education institutions conducting research and collaborating with private companies while educating thousands of students in space related disciplines. Hundreds of campus groups provide enrichment to thousands of students every year. This activity is present in every region of the state, from New York City to the rural Finger Lakes. This hive of activity is the fuel for the New York space ecosystem and critical to future growth.

Yet gaps remain. MUREP programming is only available in the New York City metro region, and K-12 planetarium distribution is also uneven statewide. There are also many insights and programming opportunities to be shared between higher education institutions, both between current space schools and between space schools and non-space schools.

It is critically important that these lists grow in the years ahead. K-12 and higher education institutions throughout the state that don’t currently have these programs should work to add them, bringing these extensive benefits to their communities.

This new era will be driven by ever denser networks of these academic institutions and the private sector companies and public institutions in their communities. Forming reinforcing partnerships that facilitate greater space related academic programming will grow the economic base for space sector businesses, both of which will support and enhance the community offerings from public institutions such as museums, planetariums, and observatories. Growth will feed on itself, spreading into currently unconnected areas of the state in increasingly extensive networks of space programming.

There is also a role for everyone in this academic network, including you! Whether a teacher or student bringing space to a classroom, a parent or community member supporting student space programs, or a business looking to grow the space IQ of the local workforce, everyone has a part to play in making this new future a reality.

We hope this report has been informative, inspiring, and thought provoking. What will you do with this information? How will you join your talents to this growing space network here in New York?

Keep your eyes open for developments in this new and exciting future!

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