Mission to Mars Amidst a Pandemic

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Ronda Cole Harmon
Maryann Hospelhorn
Esti Gutierrez
Camille Velarde
Matthew Fetrow
Vanessa Svihla


For years, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in New Mexico has led an outreach effort called Mission to Mars to engage fifth grade students in applying science and mathematics concepts related to building a colony on Mars. Many organizations across the US canceled similar events due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This design case details the original program and the pivot made to continue the program. We share successes—including reaching more rural learners—insights, and challenges, and how these have shaped a more inclusive vision for future programs.


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How to Cite
Cole Harmon, R., Hospelhorn, M., Gutierrez, E., Velarde, C., Fetrow, M., & Svihla, V. (2021). Mission to Mars Amidst a Pandemic. International Journal of Designs for Learning, 12(1), 158–170. https://doi.org/10.14434/ijdl.v12i1.31295
Designing for Learning in a Pandemic
Author Biographies

Ronda Cole Harmon, AFRL NM STEM Academy

Ronda Cole Harmon is the AFRL NM STEM Academy director through a Partnership Intermediary Agreement between AFRL and New Mexico Institute for Mining and Technology. She develops and implements activities that engage learners in the application of STEM content within the context of STEM careers.

Maryann Hospelhorn, AFRL NM STEM Academy

Maryann Hospelhorn is a STEM Outreach Specialist at AFRL NM STEM Academy. She develops and implements STEM activities and works to increase access to STEM for K12 students.

Esti Gutierrez, AFRL NM STEM Academy

Esti Gutierrez is the Director for the DoD STARBASE NM program, a national STEM Outreach program that is within the AFRL NM STEM Academy.

Camille Velarde, University of New Mexico

Camille Velarde is a Ph.D. Student studying health communication at the University of New Mexico.

Matthew Fetrow, AFRL NM STEM Academy

Matthew Fetrow, director of outreach activities at AFRL NM, designs and implements programs that connect the Air Force to the business and education communities.

Vanessa Svihla, University of New Mexico

Vanessa Svihla, associate professor of learning sciences at the University of New Mexico, studies how people learn as they frame problems.