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A Call to Nasa

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 A group of lucky students got to put their questions to one of NASA's senior engineers in the American space agency's headquarters in Washington DC, by the wonders of technology.

The pupils at the Community College in Bishop's Castle crowded around the screen which had an internet link to the USA, where Dr Mamta Patel Nagaraja was on hand to answer questions about careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – otherwise known as STEM subjects.

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The conference call was arranged by science teacher Rio Scott at the school, after a slight delay.

She said: "On June 23 it was 'Women in engineering' day and I tried to put together a day of talks by inspiring women to talk to students but the communication with NASA took so long that we couldn't do with them on that day.

"But the woman I was in contact with at NASA was brilliant and said that it didn't really need to be on the day itself, so we arranged it for later."

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She said only 13 per cent of engineering jobs were taken by women so the drive was try to inspire more female students to STEM subjects.

She said the students were thrilled by the encounter.

"The students were really impressed to see she was quite a glamorous woman and not a hyper nerd at the end of the internet," she said.

"She gave us a brief biography of herself for the first 10 minutes or so, where she grew up and how she got interested in science and particularly engineering.

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"Students had two weeks to come up with their 'burning question', we opened it up to the whole school and we selected the best 15, which the students then put to her themselves."

She said questions included which area of space science Dr Nagaraja would most like to see advancement in.

"The answer to that was propulsion so that we can get people to planets quicker, because at the moment it would take about nine months to get people to Mars," said Miss Scott.

"They also asked about how to pursue a career with NASA. That was particularly brilliant because she told them NASA take on undergraduates at quite a young age, from about 17 or 18, and get them to do apprenticeships.

"It was quite inspiring. For me as a teacher it is all about trying get the students to aspire to greater things, especially in a small rural town like Bishop's Castle, and see there are opportunities out there and they are within their grasp," she added.