US Army Corps of Engineers
U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center

Volunteers inspired by STEM students at UAHuntsville

Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville Public Affairs
Published Dec. 14, 2015
Betina Johsnon, U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville Ordnance and Explosives Design Center chief, speaks to Sebastian Stewart, left, and Liam Bair, Hartselle High School, Hartselle, Alabama, about their conceptual payload during the InSPIRESS event at UA Huntsville, Dec. 11.

Betina Johsnon, U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville Ordnance and Explosives Design Center chief, speaks to Sebastian Stewart, left, and Liam Bair, Hartselle High School, Hartselle, Alabama, about their conceptual payload during the InSPIRESS event at UA Huntsville, Dec. 11.

Russ Dunford, U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville chief of operations, speaks to McCoy Floyd, left, and Zachery Amerson, Palmetto Scholars Academy, North Charleston, South Carolina, about their conceptual payload during the InSPIRESS event at UA Huntsville, Dec. 11.

Russ Dunford, U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville chief of operations, speaks to McCoy Floyd, left, and Zachery Amerson, Palmetto Scholars Academy, North Charleston, South Carolina, about their conceptual payload during the InSPIRESS event at UA Huntsville, Dec. 11.

More than 45 students from three high schools participated in the Innovative System Project for the Increased Recruitment of Emerging STEM Students (InSPIRESS) event at the University of Alabama Huntsville Dec.11, to gain an understanding of engineering requirements, design process and the role a customer plays in design.

InSPIRESS, a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) outreach program, provides high school students with an opportunity to develop and design a scientific payload for NASA interplanetary robotic missions-of-interest, said Matthew Turner, UAHuntsville principal researcher in Modeling & Simulation.

These conceptual payloads – science experiments that occur on a planet or moon – are developed to “ride aboard” a spacecraft on the interplanetary missions designed by UAHuntsville senior design undergraduates, he said.  

Last year, the mission was to Jupiter’s moon Europa. Turner said many students designed payloads that attempted different ways to search for “life” in Europa’s subsurface ocean or sample Europa’s surface to determine its age.

“This year, we are exploring Saturn’s moon Titan, which is the only moon in the solar system that has an atmosphere. So, the payloads are different ways to explore the atmosphere, weather balloons, different instruments, etc.,” Turner said.

And because it adds to the fun and experience, InSPIRESS is a competition, he added.

The U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville provided judges for the InSPIRESS event.

The competition included an open house poster session and a final review where student teams explained the purpose of their design – and reasons for their design decisions – to judges. From the judge’s evaluations scores, points were totaled to determine the winners.

In the past, winners of the competition have traveled to NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., to present their ideas to the heads of the NASA Planetary Science Division inside the NASA Science Mission Directorate.

Huntsville Center employees Betina Johnson, Ordnance and Explosives Design Center chief, and Russell Dunford, chief of operations, volunteered as open house poster session judges, which allowed them to walk around and speak with student teams about their conceptual payloads.

Johnson said she was encouraged by the student’s ability to understand the relationship between STEM majors and how these fields contributed to their projects and hopes the students continue to participate in STEM events.

“The Corps of Engineers is very heavily focused on the science, technology, engineering and math disciplines, and we are looking to the future generations to execute our programs,” she said.

Dunford said many students he spoke with during the event were interested in a future in engineering, and he was optimistic as to what the future would bring. 

“Many of these high school students give a presentation that would rival most college students,” Dunford said. “So, you really get a great sense of what is coming behind us and walk away thinking things are probably going to be alright.”

Jason Bray, Installation Support Directorate project manager, volunteered as a final review judge to assess formal engineering presentations for three of the student teams.

“I was blown away by their knowledge of the subject and their scope of understanding,” he said. “This is our future.”

Bray said he was impressed with the event, and will encourage his coworkers to volunteer for the InSPIRESS event at UAHuntsville in the spring.