In 1994, a number of professionals in science and education were invited by Senator Diane Watson to visit South Africa and evaluate the status of education there. Among that group was Professor Hal Walker, who worked on Apollo 11, and his wife Doctor Bettye D. Walker, a retired public school administrator and a professor herself. They were impressed by the students they found there, and in subsequent years proceeded to bring students from South Africa to the U.S. for educational opportunities.
Together, they were inspired to found AMAN, a STEM education and mentoring program meant to work internationally, which has now run for a quarter of a century. Originally funded by a grant to study educational decline in inner city environments, it was shaped into a tool to motivate students from 5-18 years old. Since 1986, it has helped send over ten thousand students from the U.S. and Africa to college in the United States.
Hal Walker, who is still very actively involved, likes to talk to students about his own experiences in the space program. He is open about how lonely an experience it was for him as a black man in STEM. He wants to encourage African Americans and black South Africans to take up science tracks, a field in which they are very underrepresented even today. He’s often joined by astronaut and doctor Bernard Harris, the first African-American to walk in space.
One of AMAN’s success stories is a 14-year-old girl from Fezeka High School in Gugulethu, South Africa, who traveled to the U.S. and participated in a Junior Astronaut JPL/NASA/Mars Rover program. While she was there, she actually got to push buttons that moved the Mars Rover on the planet’s surface. Now she is an honors graduate of the University of the Western Cape, having studied geology—another fascinating STEM field.
As of this year, AMAN Is working with Rotary International and a number of private-sector donors to tutor students from Cape Town, South Africa, to attend the International Space Development Conference, where they can meet leaders in many STEM fields and speak up for the next generation of scientists. Most of these students hope for futures in SANSA, the South African National Space Association.