3 months ago

NASA head visits Alabama public high school, praises ‘incredible teachers,’ ‘amazing’ students

ARAB — NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Congressman Robert Aderholt (AL-04) visited Arab High School on Friday, speaking with students, faculty and local elected officials about all things space.

First on the agenda was meeting with the school’s student robotics team that is competing in NASA’s Great Moonbuggy Race, an annual competition in which student teams from around the country design, build, program and then operate their very own robotic moonbuggy.

The team’s teacher told Bridenstine that for him, “It’s not a job, it’s a calling.”

This type of passion was evident in the students and faculty when visiting with Bridenstine and Aderholt, as well as a contingent of NASA employees, some from the nearby Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, who were accompanying the administrator.

This included a starring appearance by Ricky Arnold, an active astronaut who has spent time on the International Space Station, among other missions.

The next stop on the tour was another robotics team at the school, this one annually competing in the FIRST Robotics Competition. This is a “legacy team” for NASA, as it was funded by the agency for the first three years of its existence from 2004-2007. Now, operating for 15 years, it has become a nationally respected program, winning the Woodie Flowers Finalist Award at last year’s regional and advancing to the world championships. 25,000 students across American participate in this competition. And while not receiving funding from NASA anymore, several employees of NASA and/or Marshall Space Flight Center do help the team out as mentors and volunteers.

Bridenstine, while speaking with the students on the team, turned to Aderholt and said, “We at NASA believe in this (supporting student robotics efforts) so much because of the benefit we get from it, from young folks that get involved and end up working in either industry that supports NASA or working directly for NASA.”

“We actually invest about $4,500,000 annually into the FIRST Robotics program,” he advised.

This was a major focus of NASA’s visit to Arab High School — emphasizing the value of STEM education and the pathways to high-quality, fulfilling careers that come from these types of classes and programs.

Bridenstine explained to the students on both teams that the work they were doing for their respective competitions “very closely mimics the kind of projects that NASA does.”

This builds real-world skills and prepares them realistically for STEM and technical jobs.

Bridenstine also offered words of encouragement.

“These kids here … could very well one day be building the robots that we put on Mars,” he stressed.

“I think you’ve got some future NASA employees right here,” Arnold chimed in.

“Yeah, no doubt,” the administrator responded. “No doubt.”

‘You guys are doing amazing things here’

While speaking to a more comprehensive group of Arab High School students shortly afterward in the school’s media center, Bridenstine shared some of the things NASA is working on now, things he told the students they could soon be directly involved in.

“I’ve heard wonderful things about this high school,” he remarked, adding that what he saw Friday affirmed what he had been told beforehand. “Clearly you guys are doing amazing things here.”

“Maybe, one day, NASA will be able to enlist you in some of the projects that we’re working on,” Bridenstine said.

The biggest project, perhaps, that NASA has on its plate was handed down directly from President Donald Trump: the Artemis program, which will see Americans return to the Moon, the first woman step onto the surface of the Moon and eventually see the first human voyage to Mars.

Much of the work on Artemis is actually being done at Marshall Space Flight Center, and Bridenstine, after leaving the high school in the Sand Mountain area, traveled up to Huntsville to announce even more goods news for north Alabama’s space industry — Marshall will lead the lunar lander program for Artemis now.

However, before leaving Arab High School, he left the students with more words of inspiration.

“I think if we were able to find life (microbial life) on another planet … if we can discover that, I think it’s going to change how we think, it’s going to change what we want to go discover and, of course, humanity will go further into the solar system than ever before,” Bridenstine concluded.

STEM — ‘Alabama has some really amazing programs’

Bridenstine and Aderholt also spoke to the members of the media present, sharing their enthusiasm for modern space exploration — and what the future could hold with students like the ones in Arab.

They both reiterated how educational tools like the robotics and STEM programs they witnessed on Friday help prepare students for real careers. The administrator added that at Arab High School and others like it, he hopes NASA can “inspire” students to travel the STEM pathway.

“When we talk about what it’s going to take for the United States of America to lead in the future, we’ve got to have folks entering the STEM educational programs — all across the country,” Bridenstine advised. “And of course, Alabama has some really amazing programs, some really amazing folks.”

Speaking with State Rep. Wes Kitchens (R-Arab) afterward, Bridenstine stressed how important state-federal partnerships are to NASA.

Legislators like Kitchens and State Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) strongly supporting workforce development — whether it be technical training or STEM education — is important to build the highly skilled pipeline that keeps NASA and places like Marshall Space Flight Center running.

Kitchens told Yellowhammer News, “A lot of these things are teaching the kids what it’s like in a real-world application. Not only seeing it in the classroom, but being able to actually go out and be career-ready once they graduate high school.”

“Marshall Space Flight Center is so important to this area and this whole district, they have such an economic impact that kids are able to see and hopefully inspire them to be the next engineer or astronaut or whatever they want to be,” he added.

One important component that allows for successful STEM and workforce development programs like this, especially in rural areas like Marshall County, is having high-quality broadband in place. Scofield has recently led the charge in the legislature to expand rural broadband access across Alabama.

Speaking to Yellowhammer News, he called workforce development efforts “critical.”

“We’ve made every effort to invest in it here on the local level,” Scofield explained. “We’ve done that for the past nine years, and we’re really seeing the results firsthand here.”

“When we hear the administrator for NASA ask what these young people want to do and they say, ‘Precision machining,’ well that investment has paid off,” he continued. “That’s creating great opportunities for these young people.”

Scofield concluded that workforce development must continue to be invested in on the state and local levels.

You can view a tweet thread from the event, including photos and video clips, here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

13 hours ago

Judge rules Alabama-born ‘ISIS bride’ not an American citizen, has no right to return

Hoda Muthana, who left Hoover in 2014 to join ISIS in Syria, has no right to return to the United States, according to a Thursday ruling by a federal judge.

Muthana has been begging to return to America since at least early this year, claiming she made “a big mistake.”

She has previously called for the killings of Americans on U.S. soil, as well as the assassination of then-President Barack Obama.

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Muthana was 19 years old when she left Alabama and headed to Raqqa, Syria. There, she first married an Australian jihadist named Suhan Rahman, who was reportedly killed later in the town of Kobanî.

After Rahman’s death, Muthana – called “one of Isis’s [sic] most prominent online agitators” as well as one of the most militant – took to social media in a vengeful call for the blood of American citizens to be spilled by radical jihadists living in the country.

“Americans wake up! Men and women altogether. You have much to do while you live under our greatest enemy, enough of your sleeping! Go on drivebys, and spill all of their blood, or rent a big truck and drive all over them. Veterans, Patriots, Memorial, etc day … Kill them,” she once tweeted.

After the death of Rahman, she married a Tunisian fighter, with whom she had her son, Adam. This second husband was soon killed in Mosul, and Muthana briefly married a Syrian fighter last year to complete her own trifecta of jihadist husbands.

It is supposedly in part out of concern for her son that she wants to return to her family in the Yellowhammer State. She also claims to have become de-radicalized over time after seeing the realities in the Middle East.

President Donald Trump’s State Department has maintained that Muthana is not an American citizen, as such has no rights to return to America and therefore would be banned from reentering the country.

On Thursday, approximately nine months after Muthana’s family sued the State Department in federal court, Senior United States District Judge Reggie Walton of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia officially sided with the government.

The judge found that there was sufficient evidence to conclude that Muthana was born in America while her father, who once represented Yemen to the United Nations, still had diplomatic status in the U.S.

As reported by Buzzfeed News, “Federal regulations and international law state that children of foreign diplomats born in the US are not subject to the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees birthright citizenship, because they are born under the jurisdiction of another country.”

Additionally, the judge also ruled that Muthana’s father can not provide financial support to her or her two-year-old without being subject to federal charges of providing material support to terrorism.

A lawyer for Muthana reportedly told Buzzfeed that an appeal is likely.

The ruling came days after NBC News featured the “ISIS bride” in a new exclusive. In that latest report, which was mocked by PJ Media, Muthana asserted that every American of faith must support her return, claiming, “Anyone that believes in God believes that everyone deserves a second chance, no matter how harmful their sins were.”

That report also outlined that a return to live in Hoover was still Muthana’s goal.

“I want my son to be around my family, I want to go to school, I want to have a job and I want to have my own car,” she told NBC.

Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) has previously advocated that Muthana be allowed to return to America.

Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) disagreed with Jones’ position, saying, “Look, this is one of many ways that Doug Jones differs from the people – the vast majority of people – in the state of Alabama.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

14 hours ago

Roby presses VA officials on staffing issues at Alabama facilities — ‘My veterans are suffering’

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby (AL-02), a member of the House’s Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, on Thursday participated in a hearing regarding the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection’s failures at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Roby questioned Michael J. Missal — inspector general of the VA — and Dr. Tamara Bonzanto — the assistant secretary for accountability and whistleblower protection of the VA.

In her questioning and remarks, Roby highlighted the importance of whistleblowers in uncovering critical issues at Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS) and the urgent need for staffing improvements within the VA system.

She specifically pressed the inspector general as to why the system is not seeing any internal change impacting the lives of Alabama’s tremendous veterans.

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Roby asked, “Is there a disconnect between the administration’s view of how the VA is operating and the IG’s reports on the issues, and is the administration doing enough to implement IG recommendations?”

She commented, “This [whistleblower] hearing is important because there are some VA facilities in this country that are working well and serving our veterans well. There are others that are not, and that happens to be the one in my district…There is a tremendous problem with our veterans even having the ability to be seen. …It’s just not getting better. …I continue to be so outraged and frustrated as to why this is not getting better…My veterans are suffering because of it.”

You can watch Roby’s full remarks here.

The southeast Alabama congresswoman has long been a vocal advocate for veterans and improving the VA system.

RELATED: Roby: ‘My name isn’t on the ballot in 2020, but I still have a few fights left in me — The VA remains at the top of my list’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

15 hours ago

Alabama Policy Institute launches campaign to change state’s ‘dead last’ k-12 ranking

The Alabama Policy Institute (API) on Thursday launched the “#DeadLast Initiative” aimed at focusing elected officials and the public on Alabama’s recent ranking as having the nation’s lowest-ranked public education system.

The initiative includes the launch of DeadLast.org and an online video poking fun at the fact that Alabama is no longer even above Mississippi in its education ranking.

API is not just drawing attention to embarrassing problems — they are proposing tangible solutions.

Chief among the calls-to-action are for Alabama voters to pass Amendment One on the March 2020 primary ballot. The bipartisan proposal would be a historic overhaul of the state’s educational governance structure.

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In addition to outreach to elected officials, API is expected to invest significant time and resources into spreading the message to the public that Alabama must do a better job in educating our children, according to a press release.

“Alabama can no longer say ‘Thank God for Mississippi’,” API president Caleb Crosby said in a statement. “We are letting our children down and not preparing them for a productive life. API is going to do everything in our power to bring about change in the way we educate our children in Alabama – they deserve nothing less.”

API is also advocating for reforms such as the expansion of school choice through charter schools and scholarships; the wise use of tax dollars and not simply increasing spending for the sake of increasing spending; and reformulation of the teacher tenure system so that teacher performance and continual professional development are rewarded more than longevity.

API chief operations officer Carl Jones remarked that it is time to get away from a failing “status quo,” which he said is perfectly represented by the Alabama Education Association (AEA).

“Alabama’s worst in the nation ranking makes clear it’s high pastime we break the status quo in education in Alabama. No one more represents the same old same old as the Alabama Education Association,” Jones stated. “Unions have one goal – get the best deal for their members – that’s it. Our goal is to get the best deal for our children. We don’t want small shiny objects; we want, and our children need, real, aggressive reforms including an immediate expansion of school choice and reforming teacher tenure, among other things.”

API chief communications officer Joshua Pendergrass added, “It is simply unacceptable for Alabama to be number 52 in education – 52 out of 50 states – that means even Washington D.C. and the military are better educating their children than we are. We are committed to moving our state forward through smart, practical education reforms.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

15 hours ago

Auburn in the playoffs? Don’t count the Tigers out yet

You can surely call me wacky. You can surely call me unconventional. Just don’t call me Shirley. And after perusing this column, perhaps you will call me enlightened (I can only hope). Yes, I’m telling you that there’s a chance. That chance may be slim, but there’s a chance that the Auburn Tigers could soon find themselves in the College Football Playoffs.

Now, before you send me to my doctor, give me just a few minutes to make my case — my doctor can wait.

I’m here to tell you that if Auburn wins out, the Tigers could become the first-ever two-loss team that makes the four-team playoff field.

How in the name of Aubie can that happen? Here we go:

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The latest College Football Playoff poll has LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and Georgia holding the top four spots, with Alabama checking in at number five. While most of us agree that the Crimson Tide can sneak into the playoff field by winning out (Bama will need a big win over Auburn and then hope that LSU beats Georgia in the SEC Championship game), the Gus Bus also has a chance of motoring toward the final four by winning out.

So then, what do Auburn officials need to happen to make their case? They need Auburn to win the remaining games on the schedule: Should Auburn beat Georgia and then Alabama, the Tigers can boast of three wins over top-seven teams (Oregon, Georgia and Alabama). The Tigers can point to their strength of schedule, which currently ranks second in the nation behind LSU. But what about the two losses? The Tigers lost to 11th-ranked Florida by 11 points and #1-ranked LSU by three points — that’s not necessarily the playoff kiss of death.

What about all of those unbeaten and one-loss teams that are in the mix? An Auburn win this weekend would all but eliminate Georgia, and a win in the Iron Bowl would all but eliminate Bama, as a two-loss Auburn team would trump a two-loss Alabama team with the Tiger’s win over the Crimson Tide. But even if three of the playoff teams wind up being LSU, Ohio State and Clemson, how would Auburn sneak past the likes of Oregon, Oklahoma, Baylor, Utah or even Penn State (the Nittany Lions face Ohio State on the 23rd of this month)?

That’s easy, as the power of the SEC, strength of schedule and the ‘ole, “what have you done for me lately” syndrome would kick in (wins over Georgia and Alabama within weeks of one another would indeed be impressive). Oregon could be a wild card should Auburn win out, as the Ducks could claim that their only loss came at the hands of — you guessed it — Auburn.

The world of the College Football Playoffs goes through the Loveliest Village this weekend, as the Auburn-Georgia game is so big that Crimson Tide fans may find themselves rooting for Tua and friends. Remember, an Auburn win this weekend and then a convincing Iron Bowl win by Alabama would all but put the Crimson Tide in the playoffs.

Can the Auburn Tigers go all 2017 starting this weekend? Remember, the Tigers had two losses a few years back before beating Georgia and Bama. It could happen, and if it does, the Auburn family will once again remind the world that it should be respected. Could the Tigers make the playoffs? Most playoff sites are giving the Tigers a 13% chance of sneaking in. Thirteen percent odds are better than many, so yes, I’m saying there’s a chance. So get ready for another wild weekend of college football, as a game with huge ramifications will kick off at 2:37 p.m. CT at Jordan-Hare Stadium. And regardless of the game’s outcome, do me a favor: Don’t call me Shirley.

Rick Karle is a 24-time Emmy winning broadcaster and a special sports contributor to Yellowhammer News. He is also the host of the Huts and Nuts podcast.

16 hours ago

Fish added to Alabama creek to boost tourism

Hundreds of fish have been added to an Alabama creek as part of an ongoing effort to boost tourism.

Black Creek was restocked Tuesday with about 1,100 pounds of trout above Noccalula Falls by the Rainbow Fly Fishing Club, The Gadsden Times reported.

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The group also stocked 1,000 coppernose bluegill into the watershed in late March.

Rep. Craig Lipscomb (R-Rainbow City) is a member of the fishing club, and said they’re working with the city to fill a gap for activities at the falls in the winter months.

“We’re thinking about eco-tourism,” he said.

Lipscomb said trout fishing in Georgia brings in tens of millions of dollars for the state and Gadsden would benefit even from a fraction of that.

Georgia has about 4,000 miles of trout streams and they are managed by the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

Fly fishing for trout is expected to last beyond the winter months.

“They’re a cold-water fish but they’ll stick around into summer,” Lipscomb said.

He said the club plans to feed the fish to keep them in the upper part of the watershed instead of following Black Creek downstream into the Coosa.

Lipscomb said even in summer, the deeper part of the pools and shaded areas of the gorge will be habitats for the fish.

The trout will be stocked twice a year — once in November and once in February.

Fishing for trout requires a permit issued by Noccalula Falls Park as well as an Alabama State Fishing License.

Permits cost $9 per day or $11 for a three-day pass.

There are other limitations including dates for catch and release and only using fly rods, artificial lures and barb-less hooks.

More information can be found at www.flyfishgadsdenal.com.
 (Associated Press, copyright 2019)

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