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Odyssey inspires students
Mar. 2005
 
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.

Rebecca Mittenthal, 13, tries her hand at landing an F/A-18 in Dryden's flight simulator. 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 process involved.

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. "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 require.

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."

Dryden engineer Starr Ginn plays host to a student group for her workshop on structural dynamics, 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 stuff."

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 the ground.

+ View full PDF version of the March 2005 X-Press

 
 
Sarah Merlin
X-Press Assistant Editor