Girls and boys building robotics kits.

Alissa Bans, PhD

2023 Seed Grant Awardee

Project Description


Graphical representation of Alissa's collaborative project with SMSC. Include project title, logos, and imagery representing youth building robotics kits.

While the growth of NASA’s ASTRO CAMP program implemented each year by the Smoky Mountains STEM Collaborative has meant an increased exposure of local area K-12 students to engaging STEM experiences, the success of the program means that there is a growing population of repeat campers. Returning campers are in need of new challenges, specifically those that can be approached alongside first-time campers. Thus the primary aim of this work is to develop more inquiry-driven activities and challenges called AIMs (Astro Camp Investigative Modules) for repeat participants that complement the overall theme and curricula for first-time campers. In particular, the project goals include the development of 3-5 AIMs across different themes that are usually part of the ASTRO CAMP curricula and also a fully inquiry-driven capstone activity where the repeat campers work with a subject matter expert (SME) mentor and draw upon the topics covered in the AIMs to discover something new using a curated NASA (and NASA-affiliated) dataset. Overall, the project aims to provide authentic science experiences to repeat campers, to increase camper’s sense of science identity through design-based activity, and to inspire the next generation of science learners and leaders in this important local community.

Target Audience Age


NASA Division


Grant Status

Learning Context

Digital Learning

Home and family enabled

Neighborhood /

Informal /
Out of School

Home / Family

Citizen Science

Formal Education


Alissa Bans Bio Photo

I am already a committed educator with a passion for designing activities that are highly investigative (and often involve the use of real data), but most of my focus is college education. I was most excited about the SCoPE Seed grant because I wanted to work with a SciAct team to engage with and reach a broader population of learners.

Alissa Bans, PhD AIMs PI

Alissa Bans, PhD

Assistant Teaching Professor
Astronomy and Astrophysics

Alissa completed her PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago in 2013.  Prior to joining the Emory Physics Department in Fall 2017, Dr. Bans was a postdoctoral fellow at the Adler Planetarium and a visiting professor at Valparaiso University. Her research interests are focused on how solar systems form and evolve. She is currently a science team member of Disk Detective, a NASA-lead citizen science project designed to find young star systems across the sky. Dr. Bans's primary passion is education and outreach; she's committed to bringing authentic science experiences into the classroom and enjoys working with undergraduate students on research. 

SciAct Team

Smokey Mountain STEM Collaborative Logo

Smokey Mountain STEM Collaborative Description

The Smoky Mountains STEM Collaborative is a STEM education ecosystem project serving learners in the southern Appalachians of western North Carolina.

They work with learners from a diverse population, including enrolled members of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians and many first-generation college students. These learners are underrepresented not only in STEM fields, but higher education in general. Their continuing mission is to expand and engage the region's public schools, tribal schools, community colleges, and universities in a cohesive, learner-centered STEM ecosystem that leverages Subject Matter Experts (SME's) and science centers to achieve NASA's mission to help learners of all ages "do" science in their own communities.

Matt Cass Bio Photo

Anytime we can connect rural learners and educators with NASA subject matter experts it feels like a win. To have them work alongside one another? This builds community, partnership, and even friendship. I'm excited to see the results of this collaboration.

Matthew Cass SMSC PI