Sister Cities

Sister Cities in the News:

Sister Cities Begins: School Exchange Between Neighbors of ALMA in Chile and the VLA in the U.S.

Sister Cities Program

In front of La Moneda Palace in Santiago, House of Executive Power in Chile, the Magdalena School visitors on their first day in this country. Credit: S.Cabezon (AUI/NRAO/NSF)

Sister Cities is a collaboration between AUI, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), and the schools surrounding the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico and ALMA in San Pedro de Atacama in Chile.

Despite their proximity to major world-class observatories the communities surrounding the VLA and ALMA have historically lagged behind their countries´ general population in terms of scholastic achievement in science and mathematics and interest in STEM careers. This is especially true among Navajo and Likan Antai students.

The original Sister Cities was established in 2006 as a program focusing on language and cultural exchange. The teacher and student exchange program took place in Magdalena and San Pedro, until funding challenges during the 2008 economic crisis in the U.S. and around the world brought the program to a close.

The New Sister Cities Program – In collaboration with the communities neighboring ALMA and the VLA, the new Sister Cities effort is building on the cultural exchange of the original program and establishing a stronger connection with the observatories by fostering project-based learning and authentic research in radio astronomy. Sister Cities broadens these important learning opportunities for traditionally underrepresented groups, and will lead to a deeper understanding of STEM and interest in STEM careers.

In 2016, a total of six participants traveled for a month-long exchange. One teacher and two students from Magdalena High School traveled to San Pedro in July-August, and a similar team traveled from the Likan Antai High School to New Mexico in September. Moving forward Sister Cities will expand to include the Alamo Navajo Community School in New Mexico and Toconao Schools in Chile. In the year following the annual exchange, teams from the schools remain connected through virtual meetings. During these meetings students and teachers continue to share their diverse cultures and work to engage in collaborative STEM learning and authentic radio astronomy research projects. These projects will model the international collaborations that happen daily in the professional astronomy community. EPO personnel and the science and technical staff from the VLA and ALMA support this process and serve as mentors for students and teachers.