Uwingu as a new model for funding Space Education

credit Emily CoBabe-Ammann

Someone once said that the best way to predict the future is to invent it.  If we believe that science and engineering education is the path to an economically vibrant future for our kids and our country, it’s time to get moving.  The new for profit company, Uwingu LLC, seeks to kick start this process through a website that connects people to the sky via commercial products and uses the profits, in part, to fund education. Through Uwingu.com, anyone can contribute, connect, and learn.

Uwingu’s goal is to be a destination for teachers and parents interested in bringing space science to their kids – and to make Uwingu a successful new model for funding STEM education.
Around the world, science and engineering education is facing challenges, both inside the classroom and out.  Budget cuts for STEM education at all levels of government, high stakes testing, and sometimes even the limited availability of STEM teachers all contribute to a growing concern that we aren’t developing the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Nothing could be more important, but this is about providing a solid economic future for our kids.  John Engler, former Governor of Michigan, recently pointed out that during the last economic downturn in the United States, STEM workers were the least likely to face unemployment – in fact, throughout the last 5 years, more and more STEM jobs went unfilled because qualified applicants couldn’t be found.  And these are jobs that pay very well, often 40-60% more than non-STEM jobs.  At Uwingu, we have become convinced that, in addition to current STEM education programs and support, we need something more.

UwinguTM, LLC is a start up company made up of astronomers, planetary scientists, and science educators.  It’s goal is to sell Internet products (apps) in the space arena to accomplish two objectives—to better connect people to the sky and space exploration, and to fund space research, education, and exploration projects around the world from the proceeds on those projects.  At least half of the revenue that Uwingu generates will be turned around for grants in space science, education and exploration – the rest will be used to cover Uwingu’s operating costs.  Science educators, project teams, developers, implementers, ideas people – will all be able to apply to Uwingu for grants to support their efforts.

In addition, all of Uwingu’s products have education materials associated with them.  Some are developed by our team; others have been developed by some of the best space science educators from around the country.  All of the materials are standards- and inquiry-based, and are designed to be ‘plug-and-play’, ready for teachers to use in the classroom to meet their state’s science requirements.

Uwingu’s introductory product, available at www.uwingu.com, is based around a challenge to the people of Earth to create a baby book of planet names that can be used to name the 160 billion or more planets astronomers estimate inhabit our galaxy—the Milky Way.  Uwingu planet name nominations are just $0.99; there is no limit on the number of nominations a person or entity can sponsor. Associated with planet name nominations, Uwingu also announced a contest to determine the 1,000 most popular planet names in the database, which will be communicated to planet hunting astronomers for consideration. Votes also cost just $0.99. Uwingu will use proceeds from this project and future ones to create a grant fund space researchers, space educators, and space projects can apply to!

At the Uwingu site, you can find the free educational materials designed for this first project, including an activity sheet, 1-page handout on extrasolar planets, activities from NASA’s Kepler mission, SpaceMath problems and links to many more resources.  You can also follow Uwingu on Facebook and Twitter—just search for Uwingu.