Ricky Arnold Day at Frostburg State University Will Be Remembered for Years to Come

Jun 18, 2018 11:00 AM

By Charles Schelle

Astronaut Ricky Arnold ’85 had a simple message about shooting for the stars, even if you’re grounded on Earth.

“No dream, really, is too absurd,” Arnold said, while floating about 240 miles above the planet inside the International Space Station. “You let someone tell you, you can’t do something, try your hardest to prove them wrong and see what happens.”

It’s that dream that led Arnold from being a teacher travelling the globe with his wife, Eloise, and their daughters, to being an educator astronaut.

Arnold, along with astronaut Drew Feustel, answered questions on April 9 from FSU, Bowie State University, University of Maryland College Park teacher education students and students from several public and private middle schools. Those lucky questioners lined up to participate in the live downlink between the Space Station and the Pealer Recital Hall. The interaction was broadcast over NASA TV for the world to see.

Questions ranged from asking about food and exercise to technical questions about launches to ways to inspire teachers of today.

Arnold’s mission to inspire students and teachers in his home state was evident in each answer. It was also visible on his chest, with the Maryland flag emblazoned on his suit and a FSU pennant behind him. The experience was so much more than the broadcast for the 1,200 visiting middle school students, who participated in NASA- and space-themed activities on campus with the help of FSU pre-service teachers and faculty.

It is those personal interactions and the inspirational words from Arnold and Feustel that serve as promise for what’s to come for these young minds, and one of the chief reasons FSU wanted to make April 9 – Ricky Arnold Day in the City of Frostburg – a day that will be remembered for life. It also happened to be the 120th anniversary of the founding of Frostburg State.

“I think it’s awesome that they elevated teaching and what goes on in the classroom,” said Interim Dean of the College of Education Dr. Boyce Williams, who has roots as a middle school teacher and administrator.

What students witnessed in their encounter with the astronauts that day serves as evidence. It could have been the candy floating in the gravity ball spinning in mid-air. Maybe it was Feustel’s effortless twirl to be upside down inside the Space Station or talking about the importance of teamwork. The astronauts were all teaching while doing, making an impact on children. And, it showed teachers the importance of learning beyond lectures.

“Life is about teaching and learning. You never stop learning and you never stop teaching,” said Williams said. “Even if we’re 100, we’re still teaching because there are still things to learn.”

No Limit to Learning

Arnold, a Bowie native, also elevates the pride students and alumni have in FSU. Junior early childhood education major Danielle Ferris of New Market said the astronaut’s message serves to inspire that anything is possible at Frostburg.

“People from Frostburg can do great things, and it just kind of showed the world who we are as a school and what Frostburg could do,” Ferris said.

As a future educator, Ferris saw how learning can be brought outside of the classroom.

“There’s no limit to learning and where you can learn,” she said. “You can learn inside the classroom, outside of the classroom. You can even learn and get lessons and education from space!”

One of the key components of Arnold’s educational missions in space is to complete the lost lessons of the late Teacher in Space Christa McAuliffe.

“The loss of Challenger not only affected a generation of school teachers but affected a generation of school children who are now adults,” Arnold said, answering a question from Ferris. “I happened to be one of those people who saw it on television. We here believe strongly in a sense of mission and a sense of completion. Having those lessons out there incomplete, I wouldn’t say ate at me, but I guess I would say bothered me a little bit that we didn’t quite finish that mission.”

Steven Savage ’99 was in the third grade at the time of the Challenger disaster. Today, he’s a sixth-grade science teacher at Southern Middle School in Oakland, with space being a favorite topic.

His teacher, Annette Warnick-Smith ‘79, inspired him to be a science teacher. He remembered her applying to be part of the Teacher in Space program, leading the class to follow the Challenger mission closely. He’s pleased that a fellow FSU alumnus is carrying out those lost lessons. Savage wants to instill in his students how big of a deal Arnold’s work is, and that they got to be a part of it.

“Being an alumnus at Frostburg, it’s amazing to have that opportunity. I don’t know if the kids grasp what a big deal it is, but the teachers certainly do and we relayed that to the kids,” he said. “Nobody gets to do this kind of stuff. It’s one of those things that gives you the chills as an adult.”


In the classroom, FSU faculty and staff provided teachers with NASA- and space-themed resources, lesson plan ideas and STEM activities that can keep students engaged, in part thanks to NASA’s STEMonstrations. Middle-schoolers also were treated to hands-on space-themed activities on FSU’s campus after the broadcast, including making “Ricky Rockets” and navigating “asteroid” fields.

Behind the scenes, the 20-minute broadcast and the planned activities took several months to work out logistics and programming, bringing at least two dozen faculty, staff and students together to make Ricky Arnold Day special. Everyone from cooks to police, Information Technology specialists, faculty across departments and more, helped bring FSU together and made a lasting impact on children.

“Building a culture of ownership and relationships so that people want to step up even if they haven’t been asked, that’s the only way,” Williams said. “We demonstrated that, and that’s what we saw with Ricky and Drew.”

Health and physical education major Samantha Sawall graduated from the same high school where Arnold once taught, Thomas Stone High School. She was fascinated by Arnold’s detailed answers, his charisma and the shining example he is for teachers and students.

“He probably just planned on being a teacher when he was at my age and then later in life, he became an astronaut,” the Waldorf resident said. “You never know what’s in store for the future.”

Watch the NASA downlink here: https://www.facebook.com/FrostburgStateUniversity/videos/10155250342231604/