A member of the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, continued the tradition of volunteering her time and expertise helping burgeoning engineers as part of an engineering outreach program at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
Lori Cordell-Meikle, chief of Internal Review, spent the morning of May 11 at UAH with visiting high school students as part of the university’s Innovative System Project for the Increased Recruitment of Emerging STEM Students, or InSPIRESS.
InSPIRESS, which the university hosts twice a year, connects its engineering undergraduates with high school students who have an interest in and aptitude for the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. Each semester, teams of students collaborate on a project to design a scientific payload for a space mission to a different body in the solar system. This semester’s target was the moon.
Though the program is designed for all students to benefit academically, the winning team – from Sparkman High School – is slated to visit NASA Headquarters in Washington this July to present their project to NASA executives and compete against a nationwide pool of teams.
This semester, more than 270 students from 15 high schools in Alabama, Texas, North Dakota and South Carolina participated and have been working on their projects since January.
The students presented their projects in two settings: a 25-minute formal oral presentation to a board of judges and a less formal “open house” setting where judges could see the students’ pictorial displays. Cordell-Meikle served as an open-house judge for Division B, which included students from Sparkman and Scottsboro high schools in Alabama, as well as two schools from El Paso, Texas: Clint High School and Da Vinci School for Science and The Arts.
“We are looking at their ability to communicate and to show collaboration with their team,” Cordell-Meikle said about the open house portion. “They should be able to pictorially have their demonstration or their display explained to the judges just by looking at it – what their science objective was – but then they have to come back and explain that very clearly verbally.”
Each student has a distinct role on the team, such as design engineer, project manager and community engagement activity leader, which Cordell-Meikle likened to Huntsville Center’s product delivery teams, or PDTs.
“I think that if the individuals would come into the Corps to do internships, they would be very comfortable with that model because they’ve practiced it here,” she said.
Alan Sanchez, chief engineer with a team from Da Vinci who called themselves the “Lunatics,” described the project and trip to Huntsville as a unique opportunity.
“It’s something difficult, but at the same time it’s extremely fun being able to do all the math and all the physics,” said Sanchez. “It’s something that in any other class or any other program, we wouldn’t be able to do.”
Cordell-Meikle, who has a background in engineering and experience working for NASA, said she learns something every time she participates in the program and hopes more of her colleagues participate in InSPIRESS events.
“I would like to see more of our Corps of Engineers personnel get involved, because the focus of this is engineering and physics,” Cordell-Meikle said. “So, I think a lot of folks at our command would have quite a lot of valuable input and feedback to give to the children, and I think it would also serve for opportunities for the students to do summer internships.”
For the fall 2018 semester, the target destination is Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus. To learn more about the program, including how to volunteer for future events, visit www.inspiress.org.