As school closures due to COVID-19 had significant impacts on children's education this past year, the 2021 back-to-school season is more important than ever. To help shine a spotlight on the importance of introducing and retaining more students in STEM programs at an early age, Frito-Lay Variety Packs is teaming up with Alyssa Carson, an aspiring astronaut and one of a just few certified Aquanauts, for the launch of its Back-to-School Blast Off campaign. As a part of the program, Frito-Lay Variety Packs will sponsor 50 girls for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go to Space Camp over the next five years.
"I developed a love for space at a young age. I was fortunate enough to live out my dream to attend Space Camp, which helped me further cement my interest in the STEM field," said Carson. "I want to help kids get that hands-on experience at school and in their homes, which is why I'm excited to partner with Frito-Lay Variety Packs on their mission to help young students, especially female and under-represented community groups, develop their passion for space or any STEM opportunity they want to pursue."
STEM fields are predicted to experience the highest growth in job numbers between now and 2030, yet only 28 percent of the STEM workforce is female, only seven percent is Black and six percent is Hispanic. Through a $150,000 donation, Frito-Lay Variety Packs has established the "Space for Her" Scholarship fund, which will send a total of 50 girls to Space Camp over the next five years. The brand has teamed up with the National Urban League and UnidosUS to select the inaugural class of young women, which includes:
- Kaylee, 13: Kaylee is interested in STEM because her father is a computer engineer, and she loves hearing about his job. She loves how challenging mathematics seem in the beginning but how fun problem solving is once you figure out the solution.
- Khanyri: Khanyri loves how STEM gives her the opportunity to build robots, code and program. She's excited to learn more about the lifestyle of astronauts in space.
- Lovely, 13: Lovely enjoys STEM because it challenges her to do things that she did not know she could do. She's inspired by the endless possibilities of space exploration.
- Lyric, 11: Lyric loves how STEM builds her perseverance, problem-solving skills and helps her think outside of the box. She's inspired by how rockets are designed and the technology that allows humans to survive and explore space.
- Maliyah, 13: Maliyah's goal is to become a nuclear engineer and she loves when she can apply math and science outside of the classroom to get to the bottom of how things work.
A recent study shows that most girls become interested in STEM around the age of 11, but their interest starts to wane by the age of 15. That's why, as a part of the Space for Her scholarship, Frito-Lay Variety Packs will include scholarship winners in a "Space for Her-os" mentorship program, which will offer coaching and guidance on different career paths in the science and tech sector. The Space for Her-os mentors include:
- Alyssa Carson, space enthusiast: Also known by the call sign Blueberry, Carson is an American student with the goal of training as an astronaut and being selected for future human spaceflight to Mars. In 2013, she was recognized by NASA for visiting all 14 NASA Visitor Centers in the United States and sat on the NASA Mer 10 panel at age 12 discussing future missions to Mars in the 2030s. At just 20 years old, Alyssa has her rocket license, Advance scuba certification, Pilot license, skydiving class A license, and is a certified Aquanaut.
- Beth Mund, space communication evangelist: Beth is an analog astronaut, podcast host (Casual Space Podcast), space & science communicator, and former public affairs officer for NASA at the Johnson Space Center. Beth also served as a communication officer for the International Space Station where she helped showcase the people behind the many scientific innovations that have enhanced and sometimes saved people's lives. Through her company, Stellar Communications, she continues to discover, design and help deliver powerful space narratives for people who are making tomorrow's innovations happen today.
- Elizabeth Bierman, vice president of engineering at Comcast and former president of the Society of Women Engineers: Elizabeth leads the engineering organization in four states, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Kansas and Missouri, who design and architect Comcast's network. Prior to Comcast, Elizabeth was a senior technical manager for Honeywell Aerospace in Minneapolis.
- Joyce Hirai, flight meteorologist with the USAF Reserves & flight controller in operations planning at NASA's Johnson Space Center: Joyce served on Active Duty Air Force for 11 years as a Meteorologist and now serves as a Flight Meteorologist for the 53d Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, better known as the "Hurricane Hunters." Full-time, Joyce works at the Johnson Space Center as a Flight Controller in Operations Planning, scheduling and planning crew activities for astronauts onboard the International Space Station.
- Kellie Gerardi, bioastronautics researcher and Explorers Club board member: Kellie is a future astronaut and popular science communicator. As a bioastronautics researcher, Kellie has flown multiple parabolic research flight campaigns with the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS) and will soon fly to space as a Payload Specialist on a dedicated science mission with Virgin Galactic.
- Megan Olson, supply chain senior engineer at Frito-Lay: Megan has worked at Frito-Lay for the past five years. Her current role has her managing the engineering and installation of new production lines. As a young girl, her desire was to become an aerospace engineer. Her passion for science and math lead her to a degree in Mechanical Engineering.
- Michelle Christensen, engine development engineer at Blue Origin: Michelle has worked with Blue Origin for the past nine years where she has moved her way up to being a senior manager for engine testing. She is a longtime supporter of Space Camp, donating profits from her space themed jewelry line to support Space Camp scholarships.
"Getting girls excited about STEM is just one piece of the puzzle. We need to address the issue of retaining them in this field by giving more access to programs, mentors and resources," says Marissa Solis, senior vice president of marketing, Frito-Lay North America. "Frito-Lay Variety Packs has always been an important part of the back-to-school season and this year we want to make our impact even more meaningful by offering more ways to keep these bright, young women involved in the world of STEM."
Families across the country also have an opportunity to win a spot at Space Camp with the purchase of specially marked Frito-Lay Variety Packs. As a part of the Back-to-School Blast-Off campaign, fans can enter for a chance to be one of the ten Grand Prize Winners who will receive a one-week Space Camp experience at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center® in Huntsville, Alabama. For official rules please visit FLVPBlastoff.com.
The fun doesn't stop there: Fans can also visit FLVPBlastOff.com for STEM activities created by NASA Scientists that kids and families can do with everyday household items.