Virtual Trips to Extreme Environments

This NASA-funded program leverages the excitement of NASA research at extreme environments with a virtual mentoring program to increase student interest in STEM careers and STEM identity.

VIRTEX logo People exploring the desert and the antarctic

VIRTEX will connect Boys & Girls Clubs with researchers who study unique extreme environments. Students meet virtually with these “NASA Mentors” who conduct exciting research in unique laboratory settings and at remote field locations. Through dialogue before, during, and after a virtual fieldtrip with NASA Mentors, students develop an increased understanding of the mentors’ backgrounds, motivations to do research, problem-solving skills, and career pathways, while learning more about unique NASA research and these extreme environments that their mentors work in.

VIRTEX Mentors

NASA-funded scientists who work in extreme environments are invited to become VIRTEX Mentors! With training and support, mentors will act as STEM role models as they connect with teams of students (ages 10-15) at a partnering Boys & Girls Club.

Apply Now!

Who: We’re looking for NASA-funded scientists, engineers, and technicians (including early career researchers) who conduct research in exciting, “extreme” environments such as remote field locations, unique laboratory settings, aircraft, mountain tops, underwater laboratories, and more. In particular, we are seeking mentors from historically marginalized communities. Not sure if you’re the right fit? Reach out to us with questions!

[email protected] ; [email protected]

When: VIRTEX is in the early stages of development. Pilot testing will begin in Spring 2024. The program will be accepting Mentors into 2026.

How: We will connect mentors with teams of students at participating Boys & Girls Clubs (BGCs) across the United States. BGCs conduct life-enhancing out-of-school programs, providing a safe haven for youth. Mentors will engage in three live video conference discussions with their team and correspond with students via online messaging (see expected time commitment below). Students will be tasked with “driving” these interactions— mentors will not be expected to prepare presentations, lessons, or activities. No in-person interactions are required but are welcome if possible. Following the interactions, students will create video essays to share with their communities, highlighting what they have learned and how it informs their future career paths.

Extreme Environments: NASA research spans the globe — happening in ways, places, and conditions that people may never expect. VIRTEX will leverage the excitement of these extreme environments to inspire young learners. To accomplish this, we ask that mentors conduct one of the videoconferences at an exciting research location such as a remote field site (a virtual “field trip” for the students)*. If connectivity permits, the mentors can use cell phones or tablets to give the students a virtual tour of the site while answering their questions. Mentors are also welcome to share information during the other video conferences about how they prepare for their field work, as well as their research, their career path and plans, their hobbies and interests, and more.

*We acknowledge that limited connectivity can complicate this expectation for some research teams. If you are interested in this program but are unsure about whether you can meet this requirement, please reach out. Alternative options are available.


Time commitment: Up to 3 hours of online virtual discussions with students, 3 hours responding to student messages, and 2 hours of mentor training for a total of 8 hours, across an estimated period of 2 or 3 months. Mentors are welcome to spend additional time in communication with their student team, or to mentor additional teams.

Establishing personal connections is key to successful mentoring. Be prepared to share about yourself: your interests and hobbies and motivations, how your life and career have been influenced by others, the challenges you have faced and how you overcame them, and the role that creativity and collaboration play in your work. Students may be interested in how you persisted in spite of academic struggles and in how you overcame cultural or racial or gender barriers.

Mentor preparation: Mentors will receive training resources including information about best practices for mentoring youth, especially youth from historically marginalized communities. We anticipate two hours of your time will be needed to review the training materials. Training materials will be ready in early 2024. For more in-depth training, Mentors are encouraged (but not required) to attend a Planetary ReaCH workshop.


VIRTEX will connect students with researchers working in extreme environments such as:
Aurora borealis over a forest

VIRTEX Team Members and Partners:

Principal Investigator: Dr. Lisa Gaddis, LPI Director

Project Manager: Christine Shupla, LPI Science Engagement Manager

Evaluator: Dr. Sanlyn Buxner, Planetary Science Institute

Education and Engagement Specialists

Lead Mentors


Lunar and Planetary Institute logo
University of Alaska Fairbanks logo Planetary Science Institute logo Boys & Girls Clubs Texas Alliance logo ARES logo ANSMET logo GeoLatinas logo Black in Astro logo Blue Marble logo

For more information, contact [email protected].

VIRTEX is supported by NASA Next Gen STEM, a project of NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement, under cooperative agreement award number 80NSSC23M0078. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

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