SUMMARY: Nine senior engineering students have teamed up to work on a capstone project and will compete in the NASA Student Launch Initiative competition to be held in April 2022.
By: Meghan Long, CISE student writer
For nine JMU senior engineering students, it’s actually rocket science.
Abigail Maltese, Ben Hoare, Brandon Carroll, Cameron Funk, Coleson Baughan, Gray Roisch, Kelly Sadel, Kris Krueger and Trace Scordo have teamed up to work on a capstone project and will compete in the NASA Student Launch Initiative competition to be held in April 2022. I am one of the 60 teams that will travel to Huntsville, Alabama to participate in the annual competition.
Brandon Carroll, the team’s project manager, helped get the project off the ground last year, pitching the idea as a potential capstone project to other members of the missile team.
“We knew we were interested in doing an aerospace-related project, so we started studying collegiate missile races. This caught our attention because you have the opportunity to work with NASA for the duration of the project, ”explains Carroll.
Sadel is the point of contact and the team manager. He filters all communications from NASA and takes care of team-related tasks such as planning and administrative work. “We are JMU Engineering’s inaugural aerospace team,” explains Kelly. “Many of the other teams involved in this competition have had teams before them to learn from and work with. We learned a lot from scratch. “
Carroll and Sadel meet with their team three times a week for a minimum of two hours and have been able to thrive despite starting the project during COVID. They only met twice in the whole group last year, but they worked tirelessly to acquire the skills needed to make their project one to be proud of. “We have a lot of deadlines that we have to meet almost every month,” says Carroll. “People stay from 8:00 in the morning to 8:00 at night to work on this project.”
The project is not a small one. The team is designing, testing, manufacturing and ultimately launching a high-powered rocket in a competition against participating universities.
Aside from the challenge, the terms of the competition require teams to involve a minimum of 250 students in STEM activities. JMU fulfills this requirement by partnering with the Expanding Your Horizons event, hosting quiz nights, and creating a missile-related assignment for a first-year engineering design course. The rigor of this competition is not lost in the team. “Since this is a government-sponsored competition, they expect government-level work,” Carroll points out.
The students who make up the team are an impressive cohort of future engineers. Two of the team members have acquired National Association of Rocketry High Power Rocketry (NAR HPR) certifications under the guidance of Valley Aerospace Team (VAST) mentors. They did this by creating successful individual projects, builds, and high-powered rocket launches. Carroll explains: “Basically, they did half of our project individually on a smaller scale. They helped our team a lot ”.
Carroll and his team members have built a legacy that will open doors for many engineering students to come. Abigail Maltese, Head of STEM Commitment, explains what the team’s groundbreaking work means to them. “Opening the doors to more students to get involved in the aerospace industry at JMU is extremely special to us. We are leaving this extraordinary opportunity to all the students who come after us, ”she says. A second group of students consisting of junior engineering students has already been assembled and will continue to participate in the 2023 competition.
Jacquelyn Nagel, Assistant Head of Engineering and Professor, serves as the team’s capstone project course instructor and adult educator. “This project shows that when students have the initiative and act accordingly, they can shape what they learn. Our engineering program supports student agency and ownership in learning, and that exemplifies that, “she says.
“The students are doing more than just building and flying rockets,” says Keith Holland, associate vice rector for research and innovation, who also serves as the team’s capstone project consultant and adult educator. “The team had an abundance of professional experience developing proposals and making several presentations to NASA to share and receive feedback on their rocket and payload design.” Holland explains how he looks forward to his weekly meetings with the team. “They work well together and always do what they can. They want to represent the JMU well ”.
The Rocketry Team hopes the community will continue to support their project which puts the JMU Engineering program on the map. “Rockets are expensive,” says Sadel. “Our goal is to raise $ 10,000 this year so we can cover all of our parts, assembly and travel for the competition.” Anyone interested in supporting the team can visit their website to donate.
The Rocketry Team has gained a significant following beyond the JMU community on social media platforms. The team regularly shares their progress with followers and plans to continue to do so before launch. To follow their progress, check for updates on their Instagram and TikTok: @jmurocketry.
“The engineering program is special because it is student-based and you can shape the path you want,” Maltese explains. Sadel adds: “We are all so excited about this project. There has been a lot of hard work in this and we can’t wait for the April launch. “