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Center Snapshot: Angel Henderson
Center Snapshot: Angel Henderson. Image above: Angel Henderson works in the Structural Dynamics Branch as part of the LARSS program. He also is an entrepreneur, having created a start-up company with some friends to build and market a student app for the iPhone. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

By: Michael Finneran

Angel Henderson and his colleagues were watching the film "Waiting for Superman," which takes a critical look at the U.S. education system. That's when the idea to change the system came up.

They wanted to begin with an iPhone app.

"We were kind of blown away by the documentary," says Henderson, an Old Dominion University student, "and the sad reality is that a lot of other students aren't given the same opportunities we are in education, so we decided we wanted to find a way to use technology to improve education, so we came up with College TA (teaching assistant)."

College TA is the first product created by Henderson and his partners – also students – in a year-old company they formed called ArcDNA Inc.

"It's just one of our many products," said Henderson. "We're releasing High School TA. It'll do many things to make the lives of high school students easier, like retrieve scholarship information or build study schedules for them using a unique algorithm. The application will also allow students in class to speak directly to one another, 24/7, and also allow them to speak to their professors … it's like one big virtual classroom."

More than 5,000 students and educators in 56 countries, he said, use College TA. Apple recognized it as the "#1 New & Noteworthy Education App by Apple," according to "To be where we are now, and to see our products in the hands of users around the world, it's very exciting," Henderson said.

As a student in the Langley Aerospace Research Summer Scholars (LARSS) program, Henderson works in the Structural Dynamics Branch, where Richard Pappa mentors him. There, Henderson conducts research on large solar array structures and solar electric propulsion.

"Mr. Pappa allows me to research different forms of large solar array structures to gather information and help discover the best technology for a future 300 kilowatt solar array structure," he said.

Henderson and ArcDNA are working with LARSS to develop an application for the students in the program. "Of course, there are a lot of details still being finalized," he said, "but we've already begun building it and we're really excited about it and the impact it can make."

Henderson has a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Old Dominion in Norfolk. He's working on a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at ODU while also taking computer courses.

As a Gates Millennium Scholar, his education is completely funded.

What are his plans? He'd like to be a successful entrepreneur with ArcDNA Inc.

"My true love, honestly, is computers and just the way computers affect people's lives. I've always been fascinated with technology and how things work," he said. "It's exciting not only to work on solar array structures but also to be able to develop software that makes an impact in education."

"Bill Gates has impacted my life not only with the technology he has helped create, but also through providing me full funding for my bachelor's through my doctorate, through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation," Henderson added. "Knowing this, I feel a responsibility to follow his example by not only being a great engineer, but also creating software that will help improve education for all students, regardless of their background."

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