Former astronaut will offer thoughts on reimagining STEM education — especially for underserved communities — at NJIT forum 

Bernard Harris Jr., the CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative and the first African American astronaut to complete a spacewalk, will be the keynote attraction at NJIT’s annual STEM School Leadership Forum on Thursday.

The two-hour online event, which is geared toward reimagining STEM education, has been organized by the university’s Center for Pre-College Programs.

It will feature remarks from NJIT President Joel Bloom and School Engagement Advisor Barbara Weller, plus an interview with Harris by Jacqueline L. Cusack, executive director of pre-college programs.

It starts at 10 a.m.

The Center for Pre-College Programs are designed to increase access to STEM fields among pre-college-age students, especially those who are traditionally underrepresented and underserved, Cusack said.

More specifically, the programs seek to improve the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in secondary and elementary schools by offering programs and services to more than 3,000 students in grades 4-12. In addition, the center enables high school students to take credit-bearing, college-level courses at NJIT and hosts several STEM competitions annually.

Cusack said the center’s work has never been more important.

“This year’s session is especially important as we seek to elevate the discussion above the ‘new normal’ climate brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, troubleshoot and propose new ways of leading STEM education in our schools,” she said. “We are delighted that Dr. Harris will be contributing to this dialogue.”

Harris has dedicated decades to STEM education, most recently through NMSI, which helps school systems break down barriers to access, creates sustainable practices that support all students, trains teachers to deliver culturally responsive learning and raises awareness and affinity for the power of STEM education.

While at NASA, Harris researched musculoskeletal physiology and clinical investigations of space adaptation and helped develop in-flight medical devices that allowed astronauts to extend their time in space.

The forum aims to help leaders in K-12 education forge new pathways in STEM curricula and programming. Previous forums explored expanding content and identifying funding sources to support innovation. They also included presentations from students in Harris’ STEM Summer Camp at NJIT and university academic leaders, including Moshe Kam, dean of the Newark College of Engineering, and David Fisher, professor of practice in Forensic Science.

To register for the 2020 forum, please contact Barbara Weller by email or phone at or 973-596-5492.