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Queens Chronicle

Space program graduates student number 10,000

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Posted: Thursday, April 1, 2010 12:00 am

The spring 2010 graduates of York College’s Science, Engineering, Mathematics, Aerospace Academy were recognized in a ceremony filled with NASA representatives, elected community officials and proud friends and family.

Ranging from first to ninth grades, graduates of SEMAA were honored as it marked the program’s 10th year and 10,000th student.

Dr. Jack Schlein, founding director of SEMAA at York, gave an example of how effective the program is for participants as he remembered a female student years ago who did not have the expected dream of becoming an astronaut.

“I want to be the engineer that helps build the rockets that take the astronauts into space,” Schlein said as he paraphrased the student’s words. “That is what this is all about, the crust of what we do at SEMAA.”

He noted that the world needs more engineers and females more interested in science.

SEMAA, which is sponsored by NASA and its newest partner, Consolidated Edison, has given many students of urban communities in Queens a chance to broaden their knowledge in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics areas.

York College has received numerous positive annual reviews from NASA in regards to diversity among participants, cost efficiency, use of NASA content and family participation.

During his first year in Congress, Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), mentioned that if there was one program he could bring to benefit the people of southeastern Queens it would be the NASA/SEMAA.

“Ten years later, look at where we are today,” Meeks said. His special message for the graduates consisted of them repeating after him a few words of encouragement for success.

In unison, the students said, “I am somebody, black, white, red, yellow or white. We are all precious in God’s sight. Because if my mind can conceive it then I can achieve it, because I am somebody,” they shouted.

“I believe in you and you are somebody,“ Meeks told the graduates. “You are going to make this world a much better place.”

Given the opportunity to see the management of the SEMMA classes, Gerald Voltz from the national SEMAA office attended the graduation. He thanked the parents and students for not giving up.

The 10,000th student was announced as a fourth grader named Athena Dawson. She received a T-shirt from the shuttle mission STS-130, which went into space on Feb. 8.

Dawson, a student at Cambria Center for the Gifted Child, thinks highly of the SEMAA program, referring to it as an “extraordinary experience.

“Once the letter came and said that I had been accepted, I was jumping all around the house,” Dawson said. “On my first day I was a little shy, but I made many good friends and had fun times.”

Dawson says her future plans consist of being a part-time engineer for NASA and a chemistry teacher. “I love science, and I like observing.”

There for support, Ricardo Dawson said he was very proud of his daughter. “Her confidence is a function of her school and environment,” he said. “The SEMAA program is excellent and I wish it was more promoted toward minority children.”

Additional information about the SEMAA program at York College can be found online at york.cuny.edu/semaa. Applications are now being accepted for the three-week summer 2010 session.

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