Odyssey inspires students
Dryden's Office of Academic Investments partnered with area corporate
and government sponsors Feb. 11 to host the seventh annual Math and
Science Odyssey, a daylong event designed to stimulate interest among
middle schoolers in math- and science-based careers. About 175
students and 100 volunteers and presenters thronged workshops and
Antelope Valley College hallways and ate hot-dog lunches, and didn't
let rainy weather deter them from gathering in the college courtyard
at day's end for a NASA F-18 flyover.
Image Right: Rebecca Mittenthal, 13, tries her hand at landing an F/A-18 in Dryden's flight simulator. NASA Photo by Tom Tschida
Workshop sessions led by engineers from Dryden, the Air Force Flight
Test Center, academia and the aerospace industry kept students on the
ball in their day away from the classroom. From "Cowabunga Chemistry"
and "Juggling and Mathematics" to "So You Want to be a Pilot?" and
"Origami in Geometry," students were given some real-life samples of
what earning a living as an engineer might be like.
Dryden engineer Trong Bui and co-op student Carla Hernandez manned a
booth dedicated to Bui's "Spike" aerospike rocket tests, conducted in
Texas last spring. The photo display and an accompanying
pressure-check device gave students a quick taste of what the test
"We just want to give them a little bit of exposure," said Bui, an
engineer in Dryden's propulsion and performance branch. "Maybe
there'll be a spark of interest for somebody - we hope we might be
able to plant that."
Image Left: Lockheed Martin ER-2 Life Support Lead Jim Sokolik briefs a group of students, who attended the Math and Science Odyssey at Antelope Valley College, on how pressure suits work for pilots. NASA Photo by Tom Tschida
Starr Ginn hosted "Shake, Rattle and Roll," a brief introduction to
structural dynamics. Lockheed Martin ER-2 Life Support Lead Jim
Sokolik gave students some hands-on experience with pressure suits
and how they operate. And Dryden's Richard Wong was one of a
three-man team leading engineering exercises for "Engineering as a
Career: Try it Out!"
Wong and his AFFTC colleagues briefed their listeners - complete with
PowerPoint charts - on flight test history, what it takes to be a
pilot and on the career possibilities of computer-aided design, data
gathering and analysis, designing and building structures and
aircraft - and above all, the types of schooling such careers would
The Odyssey approach seemed to be working for at least two students,
13-year-old Katie Ellefson and Addison Greece, 14, both eighth
graders at Hillview Middle School.
"Yeah, this is good," Ellefson proclaimed. "It's helping to learn
about the different job opportunities available if you're good at
math and science."
Less circumspect was 13-year-old Nathaniel Webber, from William
Bradford Christian School in Tehachapi. Webber said he was interested
in designing missiles and in "dropping stuff out the back of planes,"
adding that he was enjoying learning about the history of supersonic
jets and stealth technology development.
Image Right: Dryden engineer Starr Ginn plays host to a student group for her workshop on structural dynamics, "Shake, Rattle and Roll." NASA Photo by Tom Tschida
Besides - attending the Odyssey had "sounded good," he said, and he
thought it would be "better than regular school" for the day.
That appraisal was good enough for his dad, Chris Webber, workshop
presenter for "How To Test Parachutes?"
"Mostly, I just want to help get the kids to understand what math and
science are good for," said the elder Webber, an airdrop test
engineer with the AFFTC's 418th Flight Test Squadron. "I want them to
learn that those are abstract concepts that feed into real-world
Along with the F-18 simulator, Dryden's "NASA Mission Control"
workshop, led by engineers Laurie Grindle and Jennifer Hansen, was a
favorite among the day's offerings. With one of NASA's F-18's
airborne over the college, students lined up to take a turn asking
in-flight questions of pilot Craig Bomben.
"NASA One, this is NASA Odyssey," the questions began, after a brief
lesson in the language and equipment required in aviation
communications. Excited students then finished with a query about the
plane's specs or operation or mission. A parent standing nearby said
it best after watching one student's exchange with Bomben:
"This is so great that NASA will come here and do this," she said,
her own level of enthusiasm apparent. "This kind of thing makes such
a difference in stoking kids' dreams."
Bomben finished the day on a high note with a low-level flyby over
the college courtyard, raising goose bumps and eliciting cheers as he
left a red, white and blue streak across gray skies. Rain had
required Odyssey organizers to re-tool some of the day's events, but
hadn't dampened the spirits of the would-be pilots and engineers on
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X-Press Assistant Editor