The UCF PRIME STEM Project recently had the opportunity to take a group of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors to the Kennedy Space Center to view the launch of the spacecraft Juno for its five-year mission to Jupiter. While there, scholars toured the Visitor’s Complex and the Apollo/Saturn V Center. The highlight of the day was lunch with astronaut Frederick Gregory (Col., USAF, Ret.).

After lunch, students excitedly stated: “Lunch with an astronaut was great…I will take the advice of successful career astronaut, Fred Gregory, and apply it to my career. I already have the passion, but I will strive to give back to my community as well…The KSC experience will impact my studies because just as Fred Gregory, I will keep moving forward.”

Rebekah McCloud, SDES TRiO Center director, noted that the day provided students with an “Awesome opportunity to rub elbows with history−Colonel Gregory has contributed to African American history.”

Gregory is one of 19 African-American astronauts; 14 of whom have travel in space. He was the first African-American to pilot and command a Space Shuttle mission [Discovery, 1989]. He was on three space shuttle missions.

The day also provided students with an opportunity for self-reflection. Many of them commented about the value of education, the ability to achieve goals, and the rewards of hard work. One student noted that “I am even more motivated to work hard in seeing how big of an impact on the world I could make. What if everyone sat back and took the easy route in life. We wouldn’t have cures and technologies like we do today. Life is amazing and we shouldn’t take opportunities for granted.” Two others concluded that “this experience just motivated me even more to reach for the stars” and “anything is possible if you work hard to achieve your goals.”

The PRIME STEM Project, a federally funded TriO Student Support Services program, addresses the academic and social needs of eligible students enrolled at UCF who are first-generation in college, have a documented disability, or demonstrate financial need and are pursuing STEM related majors. It is housed in the Division of Student Development and Enrollment Services.