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  • Writer's pictureChad Oliver

Out of this World

Inspiration for Students

Former NASA Astronaut Don Thomas presents at CCPS STEAM Expo 2023


Former NASA astronaut Don Thomas knew from the age of six years old he wanted to explore space. After years of applying, his persistence paid off and propelled him to four space shuttle flights and nearly 700 orbits around Earth.

“It took me a while to get there, but from working hard and never giving up I was able to accomplish my dream, and all the students here today can do the same,” Thomas told me immediately following the Opening Session of the 2023 Collier County Public Schools (CCPS) STEAM Expo. Since CCPS emphasizes the value of igniting both sides of the brain through arts, we add the “A” to enhance STEM education into STEAM... Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. “My dream is that I impact one student, and my ultimate dream would be 20 years from now, I get a phone call and the person says... you inspired me to be an astronaut.”

On January 28, 2023, the auditorium at Gulf Coast High School transformed into a celestial experience with lively presentations, followed by the popular STEAM Village packed full of engaging hands-on exhibits.

STEAM Expo presenter and Naples High graduate Elias Myrmo hugs former Naples High teacher Bob Getka


In addition to Thomas, students of all ages heard from Naples High School 2003 graduate Elias Myrmo, one of the newest NASA flight directors to oversee operations of the International Space Station, commercial crew, and Artemis missions to the moon. Janet Ivey, the creator of the television show “Janet’s Planet,” kept the energy going for children and parents eager to take advantage of the free learning event organized by CCPS.

Myrmo’s sister teaches fifth grade at Naples Park Elementary, and he is the grandson of Gene Nara, who served for many years as principal for Gulfview Middle School and Pine Ridge Middle School. Myrmo is now based in Houston as a NASA flight director and reunited with one of his favorite teachers at STEAM Expo. “Mr. [Bob] Getka was my computer science teacher,” he recalled. “I was introverted and shy as a kid, and his class really helped me be more interactive and extroverted,” said Elias Myrmo. “[He] certainly taught me how to work with a team, and Mission Control is nothing if not a high-performing team. As the leader of that team, I am indebted to him.” Myrmo credits companies, new technologies, and investments as paving the way for new spacecraft to take people into space. “In the next 20 years, I think we are going to do amazing things in space, and folks that are in elementary school right now are on the precipice of amazing things,” predicted Myrmo.

Many students dressed up in astronaut suits, and parents worked on experiments side-by-side with their children. “We will always come to this event. I would love to volunteer at this event,” said Ashley Matthews, while standing next to her two boys who attend Sable Palm Elementary. “I’m going to tell everyone about it and hopefully continue to grow this wonderful event.” Who knows, our Collier students may reach frontiers yet to be explored. “Maybe being the first astronaut to walk on Mars,” former astronaut Don Thomas dreamed out loud. “I think that would be outstanding.”


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