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First African American astronaut to walk in space visits Baton Rouge, promotes education

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Dr. Bernard Harris received a warm welcome at a science camp in Baton Rouge Tuesday morning.

In the science community, he's a celebrity. He's the first African American to walk in space, a feat he accomplished in 1995. Now, he's the CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI), a group trying to get more kids interested in those difficult educational fields.

"I can't tell you how many communities I've been in where I walk in the door and people say, 'I didn't know we had African American astronauts,'” Harris said. “We not only have African American astronauts, but Hispanic and Latino and we have women who are astronauts in the program."

Before talking to kids about his journeys in space, he was at Woodlawn High School talking with teachers who were doing their annual training. One teacher he met with was Chasity Williams from Opelousas, a biology teacher trying to improve her students' performance on AP exams.

"Definitely, I want to implement a lot of the hands-on activities that we've done,” Williams said. “A lot of the labs, a lot of the basic skills, like how to graph and how to use graphs and just everyday life.”

Harris says he's focused on improving education because it was the key to his success. He earned degrees from the University of Houston and Texas Tech University. "We think that the key to making sure that kids are educated appropriately is starting in the classroom,” Harris said. “And that's why we have developed this program that allows us to go into school districts and into schools and teach educators how to deliver science and math."

Harris became an astronaut in 1991. He flew on the Columbia in 1993 for ten days, logging 239 hours in space. He also served as the payload commander for the STS-63, logging over 198 hours.

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