BERLIN- Stephen Decatur Middle School students were challenged last Friday to become rocketeers when a crew from NASA’s Wallops Island facility brought space to school.
“Do not fool around, you’re going to miss something cool,” warned seventh-grade science teacher Michele DeCicco as students assembled in the cafeteria for a presentation by Wallop’s Island engineers.
Students viewed video of sounding rocket launches and footage from the rockets themselves before engineer Ken Digiulian spoke about sounding rockets and what they do. Sounding rockets, also known as research rockets, test new technology and carry scientific payloads on their sub-orbital flights. The rockets, which are cheaper than other space vehicles, spend at most ten minutes in flight before coming down in the ocean.
“We do have a lot of students in to work on our projects,” Digiulian said. “It’s difficult to find good technologically-balanced students to work for us.”
Digiulian said Wallop’s Island wants to see home grown engineers and scientists working at the spaceport. The spaceport has a popular intern program available to high school students and up, and often carry student payloads.
“We even had a Boy Scout troop do a project one time and put it into space,” Digiulian said.
DeCicco said the intent of the presentation was to foster increased student interest in diversified fields at an early age.
“What we’re trying to do here is grow our own scientists and technology people,” she said “Our local economy is weighted too much for tourism and farming.”
The solution is to prepare students early for science careers.
“We want to train our own folks. The kids get really, really excited about doing their own science,” DeCicco said.
DeCicco said when asked to draw their idea of a scientist, students draw a man in a white lab coat and they have a limited idea of science careers.
“They don’t see themselves as that person,” she said.
However, Wallops Island and the public and private contractors at the spaceport boast employees in physics, technology, biology, chemistry and medicine, and there are a lot of different types of jobs. Local schools also have a new emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), with a new pre-engineering program at Worcester Technical High School.
Area middle schoolers can take advantage of the emphasis on STEM through summer programs, DeCicco said. Last year, summer program students built bridges. This year, the topic will be robotics.
“We hope someday we can convince some of you guys to become rocketeers,” Digiulian said.
To cap off the presentation, students watched a mini-rocket go up from a field behind the school.
“There’s no reason they should not be prepared to take on jobs like that,” said DeCicco. “We want to convince them they have what it takes and they will get support here.”