Student STEM Enrichment Program

Application Deadline:

Jun 11, 2024





Now Accepting Applications

Eligibility & Application Process:

Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute





The Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI) seeks to expand the 3D Planets program, originally developed through support of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. Following the initial creation and instances of the program, PARI has continued to conduct 3D Planets workshops in their original form, as summer camps, as shorter weekend long workshops, and has integrated the concepts mastered and utilized in the program in other education offerings such as designing rockets and other space craft, robotics, and the creation of a large variety of educational models. Further, PARI has adjusted the original curriculum with renditions for a wider audience and has refined our original approach in many areas. We feel it is an appropriate time to launch a new, dedicated series of 3D Planets workshops throughout the state of North Carolina to bring all we have learned to a new batch of learners. PARI plans to engage middle school aged students in creating 3D tactile maps of planetary surfaces using the technology of 3D modeling and printing. We have observed that a student who draws a three dimensional image of a lunar crater, for example, and then watches it being built layer-by-layer, will be excited by their ability to understand science and use technology. The young scholars’ enthusiasm for science and math using a new innovative technology increases.

Students participating in 3D Planets will be fully engaged in learning about the surfaces of planets and geographical markers, while using a relatively young technology that is sure to be part of their futures. Working in a technologically innovative area, students will be mathematically translating a real data from NASA spacecraft to a three dimensional tactile surface map. This process improves the students’ competence not only in math, but also improves their spatial visualization skills – the students’ ability to mentally rotate, twist, or invert pictorially presented visual stimuli. The 3D planetary surface maps with labels in Braille designed and printed by the young scholars will be put on display at their local science museums, public libraries, and schools for interactive use. The 3D Planets Scholars will have created a new venue for visually impaired individuals to participate in astronomy. We think that the connection between doing planetary surface science and finishing with a product to impact the public will encourage students to consider science-related careers.

Two hundred forty middle school age kids will participate over three years. During the summer months and year-round school breaks, groups of twenty to thirty middle schoolers will work with PARI staff for one week. The workshop will be presented at nine cooperating North Carolina museums libraries, and similar informal education centers, with summer programs held at PARI.

In past renditions of this program, the focus of the project has been on middle school girls. There is general agreement that gender differences in spatial skills-mental rotation are not biologically based, but are influenced by experience and environment. PARI seeks to expand that aspect in order to offer a larger and more diverse reach to all students and improve their spatial thinking skills, while using what we have learned with the program in the past to continue to effectively motivate each individual. We feel confident in our ability to do this, especially as our staff has remained well practiced in the materials involved, we now have a well-maintained collection of equipment, and costs of 3D printing related supplies have significantly decreased since the program’s inception.

Award Timeline

Mar 22, 2024

Application Opens

Jun 11, 2024

Application Deadline

Nov 29, 2024

Notice of Award

Dec 01, 2024

Award Start Date

Aug 30, 2027

Award End Date

Program Contacts

Alfred Mays

Senior Program Officer


Samantha Moore

Program Associate


Kendi Kajogo

Program Coordinator