NASA Ambassador

Photo Credit: Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

UMKC Senior Ayanna Johnson is all about research and STEM

University of Missouri-Kansas City senior Ayanna Johnson has been named a student ambassador to the  National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Johnson, a Liberal Arts major with minors in Psychology, Communications Studies and an emphasis in math education at UMKC, served as an intern last summer at NASA. In a field of 485 interns selected from 6,000 college applicants, she was one of 105 of her peers selected to be an ambassador. Clearly, the math part of STEM education — the mission of the NASA Student Ambassadors Virtual Community — is working out in her favor.

“We’re starting with early learning strategies to get people interested in majoring in science, engineering, mathematics and technology fields,” Johnson said. “We want third graders building NASA satellites out of Lego bricks in classrooms.”

Why? Because universities spend a lot of money to recruit STEM-field students overseas, said Johnson. And they shouldn’t have to because there is plenty of talent here.

Johnson, grew up in Kansas City and graduated from Lincoln College Preparatory Academy. Always a math whiz, she planned on becoming a math teacher. But NASA changed all of that.

“Now I’m all about research,” said Johnson, whose NASA internship was at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, where she worked in the systems engineering and technical development education department. “I like to take a problem and figure out the answer. I’m usually the last in the lab because I just want to keep reading and learning more and more.”

Johnson’s research at NASA focused on engineering instructional strategies and she wrote a manual based on her discoveries.

“The brain can only learn about seven facts at a time,” she said. “It’s important to take a break after those seven facts so the brain will accept the information more efficiently.”

At UMKC, Johnson’s research is focused on mental health. Her adviser is assistant psychology professor Jannette Berkley-Patton, who has received national attention for her health and wellness strategies in African-American churches.

“She’s taught me research isn’t performed only in a lab,” Johnson said. “It’s in a community. It’s about people.”

The mental health issue Johnson is researching is a fascinating one.  Berkley-Patton’s needs assessment survey suggests that there could be a relationship of  African-American church attendees, even those with strong faith, seeking out a mental health professional instead of their spiritual leader for counseling services.

“Students like Ayanna Johnson are an inspiration for future generations of aspiring scientists,” said U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill. “Her perseverance, leadership and work ethic represent the best of Missouri, and I’m proud she’ll not only be representing her peers, but also UMKC’s world-class education among the best and the brightest.”

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