TSU/NASA program helps 5-year-old reach for stars

Last updated on December 21st, 2012 at 09:25 pm

Vivon Ward

At age five (when most kids are trying to find their way in kindergarten), Vivon Ward is thinking space. Yes, space as in outer space.

“When you go in outer space,” he said, “you get to float.”

Vivon, a kindergartener at Thomas Magnet School, in Shelbyville, Tenn., builds toy planes and rockets, and enjoys boomerangs.

This fall, he became the youngest child, and the only one from Bedford County ever to attend NASA’s Science Engineering, Math and Aerospace Academy (SEMAA) at Tennessee State University, where he has amazed instructors and program coordinators with his wits, brilliance and enthusiasm.

“Normally we don’t accept five-year-olds in this program, but Vivon is not your average five-year-old,” said John Barfield, director of the TSU SEMAA program, adding that although the NASA program is for K-12, TSU has set its threshold to 1st-12th grade.

“Vivon is just an energetic kid who is very excited about learning about space.”

According to the Times-Gazette, Vivon’s hometown newspaper, it would seem like the youngster’s aspiration is to be an astronaut—and it may well go in that direction. But when asked recently about his career plans, Vivon said he wants to “save people if they get almost hurt.” His mother thinks that may mean being a doctor, but when Vivon is pushed further, the word “superhero” pops out. Well, he is a five-year-old.

Barfield said the SEMAA program is intended to open children’s eyes to new possibilities by introducing them to math and science at an early age.

“When they start formulating who they will become, that is an opportunity for us because we need our children to be on the front end of science and technology. This is the type of thing TSU should do to make college accessible to people who may not have thought about college,” Barfield said.

Vivon’s mother, Teaquicia Ward, heard about the SEMAA program from a cousin who has a master’s degree in education, according to the paper. A local space educator, Bill Hix, had also inspired the kindergartener’s interest after Vivon’s family attended a ‘Star of Bethlehem’ program that Hix conducted earlier this year. After seeing the program, which discusses possible astronomical conditions during the time of Jesus’ birth, Vivon decided he wanted a telescope.

In addition to science, Vivon enjoys music. He plays guitar and drums. He’d like to have a band some day, and has even picked out a name: The Nunchuks. He’s also a fan of Michael Jackson, Justin Bieber and Jason Aldean.

SEMAA, a five-week program, is held at TSU and other locations across the country. It includes hands-on, inquiry based STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) curricula. The Aerospace Education Library is a computerized classroom teaching kids about aeronautics, microgravity and flight.

The Family Café program, which Teaquicia said has been very helpful to her as a parent, is an interactive forum and a series of activities for parents of SEMAA students to encourage and enable them to support their child’s interest in science and math.

The program also includes professional development for participating teachers and customized educational opportunities and outreach.

There’s no cost to participate in SEMAA programs.

More information about SEMAA is available at www.tnstate.edu/semaa