Now partnering with Slooh to distribute $1 Million Worth of Space Exploration Grants Across the Country.
If you were to try and summarize who Dorien Nunez is in a nutshell, you’d struggle. With a degree in Sociology from Harvard, an MBA from Harvard Business School, a successful career in Finance and Economics, and several successful entrepreneurial ventures under his belt...what is his secret?
The answer may surprise you. Nunez credits his early exposure to astronomy as the key to his mathematical and business success, but what does a Wall Street entrepreneur, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and a saxophone have in common?
As a first-grader, Nunez attended a newly built PS 309 in District 16 in the Bedford- Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn New York. The School has a ginormous 3-dimensional Mural of the Solar System right outside the school cafeteria where he would pass by every day.
“We would line up there and I would memorize the planets, count the moons. Then I would go to the school library and get books. One was about Benjamin Banneker, a mathematician, and astronomer. It was also the age of Gemini and Apollo Space missions. When you learn early on that the moon is 238,000 miles away, and the sun is 93,900,000 miles away you stop being intimidated by numbers. STEM was right there every day as well as on the News every night.“
The vastness of the universe and the mathematical mysteries that lay in store led 9-year-old Nunez to take Astronomy classes at the Hayden Planetarium. With the math skills he developed and the passion he demonstrated, he later received a scholarship to attend St.Paul’s preparatory School in Concord NH.
"I never looked through a telescope until I was in High School at St. Paul's School in Concord NH where I joined the Astronomy Club led by Walter Hawley. Once you see the craters of the Moon, the Moons of Jupiter, and the rings of Saturn, you are hooked."
Following the stars, Nunez attended Harvard College where he was a classmate of Neil De Grasse Tyson, later attending the Harvard Business School. Years later Nunez became an active member of several Astronomy Clubs and the Astronomy League, even organizing the Mid- Atlantic Astrophotography Conference with the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club ( NOVAC) (one of the largest Astronomy clubs in the country).
Now a Wall Street Entrepreneur and founder of Benjamin Banneker Astronomy Club, Nunez has teamed up with Slooh to transform public school’s experiences of the solar system into engaging, experiential learning activities for K-12.
Slooh, an EdTech platform dedicated to democratizing access to space, captured Dorien’s attention when he discovered Slooh’s mission to make space education equitable to all. With state-of-the-art telescopes, a gamified platform, and quest to bring the wonder of space into every classroom, Slooh and Dorien share similar visions. Partnering to distribute access to Slooh and its asynchronous K-12 education program is helping inspire and prepare thousands of students for jobs in the growing space industry and other fields.
With only a computer and a WiFi connection, with Slooh, students can control robotic telescopes located in the Canary Islands and Chile to snap photos of celestial objects ranging from the fiery hot sun to deep space nebulae and distant galaxies. With over 1000 objects to choose from, students capture, collect and organize their photos of dynamic celestial phenomena, and add them to personalized posters collected at the end of each Quest.
These posters give students a sense of accomplishment, and with useful information, diagrams, and snippets of their own insights, can be printed and proudly displayed on the wall or shared as observations to the platform. With the launch of their foundation slooh.org, Space Exploration Grants worth $750 each are available for accredited Title 1 school’s across the country, which includes professional development, an integrated curriculum, and access to a network of online telescopes. Most importantly, no prerequisite knowledge on behalf of the educators or students is required to start exploring.
In a new era of space exploration, it is becoming increasingly urgent for investment in K-12 STEM education and teacher professional development. Funding limitations and fewer hands-on learning activities are creating significant disparities in STEM workers based on gender and race. With only 27% of women and 13% of underrepresented minorities accounting for the STEM workforce, there is a critical need for STEM education investment.
For Nunez, who has led multiple large-scale efforts to support women and minority business owners, these statistics are representative of a greater need to distribute engaging learning materials to students and schools. Nunez also believes that the earlier the exposure, the further the student will go.
Nunez began this philanthropic journey by returning to his beloved PS 309 school and was thrilled to find a receptive school. “The staff, especially Ms.Heather Allen-Hewitt embraced this immediately and received their Grant within days. Some teachers are either too skeptical, too busy, or overworked to take the extra time to explore and submit grant applications. The entire team at PS 309 embraced the idea and followed through!”
The question begs, what does Nunez’s success have to do with stargazing? “STEM is important” continued Nunez, “Finance & Economics are a part of STEM, and Astronomy is regarded as The First Science.
With Slooh, a pair of binoculars, and a computer, young people will have access to the stars regardless of where they live and even if there aren’t dark skies. For those that don't have computers and internet access, schools and libraries can teach astronomy all day because of the fact that the scopes are located in Chile and Canary Islands and offer 24 hr. access.” For Nunez, Slooh’s turn-key virtual classroom and state-of-the-art tools don’t just provide a platform, they provide a solution to these challenges, opening up opportunities for schools to participate in astronomy no matter where they are located or how much funding or time they have.
In addition to the tools and telescopes, the Space Exploration Grant provides, students are immersed in an engaging experience of the cosmos. Journeying through NGSS aligned interactive lessons or ‘Quests’ students develop transferable skills in critical thinking, creative problem solving, and data analysis - the very skills that started Nunez on his career path. With a gamified system, a plethora of personalized posters, and a stellar database of space stories, facts, and historical anecdotes, Slooh provides democratized access to space and information.
Schools that fit the following criteria qualify for the grants:
For 4th-12th grade educators at accredited Title 1 schools.
One teacher per school with 100 or more students can apply to receive The Slooh Space Exploration Grant.
Applications are available at slooh.org. For schools that don’t meet the criteria, Nunez is creating ways of working with them as well. He asks that applicants send a copy of applications to Slooh and him at firstname.lastname@example.org so that he can track and provide future support.
Reminiscing back to his Harvard experience and classmates Nunez stated “ Neil ( deGrasse Tyson) talks about taking his telescope onto the roof of his building in NYC as a youngster. With Slooh, there is no need to buy a telescope, nor is there a need to go up to the roof! Slooh is even on YouTube! While it’s not the same as having a scope and being outdoors and freezing at night in the Northeast; it is cheaper, a bigger scope comes with training from Slooh, and is available all hours of the day.
In his Quest to help educators build schoolchildren’s Math and Finance skills, Nunez is working directly with SLOOH and looking to give away 1 Million Dollars worth of Space Exploration Grants across the country as Christmas Gifts and is looking for other individuals and groups that will help give away these grants. This isn’t Nunez’s first philanthropic venture. He was co-founder of Educate The Children Foundation with his mentors Frank & Faye Clarke that was eventually supported by Walton Family Foundation and others and gave away over $10 Million dollars worth of school supplies, computer labs, music labs to schools around the country in the 80’s and 90’s.
But what about the saxophone? “Well,” says Nunez, “that came later! That’s a story about PS 262 & JHS 35 also in District 16 in Brooklyn.”...it appears as though the details of this story will have to wait another day.