An award from NASA to the ExploreHope program at Hope College is expanding a collaboration with area schools that engages middle school and high school students in authentic data collection and analysis to teach them more about science and their environment.

ExploreHope is one of just 21 programs around the country selected as NASA Informal Education Community Anchors, a new national initiative that seeks to help broaden STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) participation.  The $24,914, two-year award will enable ExploreHope to add more schools to a program it established in 2016 to provide portable monitors for students to use in measuring and analyzing local air quality. ExploreHope’s status as a Community Anchor will also enhance the students’ experiential learning by providing access to similar data collected around the world by NASA, according to Susan Ipri Brown, who is director of ExploreHope Academic Outreach and an assistant professor of engineering at Hope.

“We will be linking our curriculum so that our students will not just collect local data, but will be able to see similar data collected at the national and international level and how that data is put to use,” she said.  “Having collected data themselves will provide them with a greater understanding of the larger data set, while at the same time the larger data set will provide them with context for understanding the information that they’ve collected locally.”

In addition, Ipri Brown and the leaders of the other programs selected as Community Anchors will form the inaugural group of a NASA Informal Education Learning Cohort, organized by the NASA Museum and Informal Education Alliance.  “We will get to meet regularly with our like-minded peers and share best practices and other information to help all of our programs to be even more effective,” Ipri Brown said.

ExploreHope has most recently been sharing monitors with the Grand Haven, Grand Rapids Christian, Holland Public, Hudsonville, Kalamazoo, Rockford, West Ottawa and Zeeland school systems, and Black River Public School.  Ipri Brown noted that one goal through the NASA award is to add more lakeshore-area school systems, a number that will depend on local interest.

ExploreHope will also be developing an expanded curriculum for the air-quality monitoring project that will be placed online for others to use.

“This expansion will allow the curriculum to be available for any remote classroom, not just in Michigan,” she said. “Monitor location descriptions will be generalized to labels such as ‘park’ or ‘street corner’ for use by those outside of Michigan.”

Established by NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement, the Teams Engaging Affiliated Museums and Informal Institutions (TEAM II) Community Anchor Awards designation recognizes an institution as a local community resource.  The initiative has awarded a total of approximately $520,000 for one- to two-year projects that will serve diverse populations, including students from groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM; urban and rural areas with low economic opportunity; tribal communities; and new Americans and refugees.  The 21 selected projects span 16 states, serving communities from the Rio Grande Valley of Texas to rural Alaska.

ExploreHope’s Air Quality Monitoring Project has already had an indirect connection with NASA.  Since beginning six years ago, it has received multiple grants through the Michigan Space Grant Consortium (MSGC), which is primarily funded through a NASA Training Grant.

ExploreHope is a self-funded program at Hope that manages a variety of initiatives, including not only programs with local schools, but also Saturday outreach programs during the academic year and a Summer Science Camp program, the latter of which is accredited by the American Camp Association.  In addition to partnerships with local schools, ExploreHope has partnerships with local youth-serving organizations, and with Hope College academic departments and the college’s Office of Sustainability.

ExploreHope aims to include a diverse population of participants that reflect the community at large regardless of financial or logistical barriers to participation. Through generous donations from community members and grants from external agencies, the program has been able to provide assistance for children whose families demonstrate financial need.

More information about ExploreHope is available through