NASA LiftOff Institute: South Dakota Teachers Selected

Posted on: March 4, 2024   |   Categories: Announcements, NASA EPSCoR, News & Updates
Bree Oatman

Coverage from KELO. Pictured: Bree Oatman, PhD and science instructor at the Lower Brule Sioux Indian Reservation High School.

Bree Oatman, PhD, who resides in Pierre, has been chosen for NASA LiftOff Summer Institute, a nationally competitive program to be held this summer. She is one of two teachers from South Dakota that was chosen, along with a second teacher Mike O’Connell from Chester, SD. There were about 60 teachers selected nationwide and is a prestigious opportunity to learn from NASA’s scientists and engineers.

Sponsored by NASA’s Texas Space Grant Consortium and the University of Texas Center for Space Research, they select educators who will increase their knowledge of science, technology, research, engineering and math through space education.

How this program works! The NASA South Dakota Space Grant Consortium (SDSGC) provides a $2,500 stipend to at least two South Dakota teachers who apply and are selected for the 2024 Summer LiftOff Institute, a professional development opportunity for middle and high school teachers of STEM.  Details of the LiftOff Institute and application materials are online at  Texas Space Grant personnel review the applications of any teachers from South Dakota and then inform SDSGC of their recommendations for the stipend awardees.  SDSGC will then send funding offers to the selected teachers.

In 2024, the two teachers from SD that will each be provided a $2,500 Space Grant stipend to attend the Summer LiftOff Institute in TX are:

  • Bree Oatman, Lower Brule Day School
  • Mike O’Connell, Chester Area School
  • Note: Emily Wieczorek TF Riggs High School in Pierre was offered a stipend, but is unable to attend LiftOff due to a conflict

2023 winner ($2,500):

  • Rise Jongeling, Axtell Park Success Academy in Sioux Falls

LiftOff 2024 provides teachers with a rare opportunity to spend a week working and learning with professional NASA scientists and engineers in space exploration. Chosen teachers engage in workshops, hands-on activities, field investigations and presentations. They can use the materials for the students and other educators.

The 2024 LiftOff Summer Institute is a weeklong training event at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX sponsored by the agency’s Texas Space Grant Consortium. This year’s theme is “Growing on Earth and Beyond.” Attendees will explore the vital role plants will play in survival during long-duration missions and ways NASA is innovating plant growth and adaptation. Participants will attend presentations by NASA scientists and engineers, tour NASA facilities, and receive hands-on, inquiry-based classroom activities aligned to education standards.

“I’m really excited about NASA’s focus this year as it’s on plants. We recently built a geo-thermal greenhouse on the Lower Brule school campus to grow hydroponic plants,” said Oatman.

“We are focusing on how to grow plants in extreme environments. The soil along the (Missouri) River is high in manganese, so it makes it difficult to grow anything. It will be fun to learn their research at NASA on how to grow plants in certain environments.”

Bree Oatman

The South Dakota educators receive a stipend to help cover expenses of the trip and training, funded from the South Dakota Space Grant Consortium.