Students complete Aerospace Scholars Program

November 25, 2008

By Stephanie Small

Building rockets, completing assignments and planning a manned mission to Mars.

Science class this is not. Instead, these are among the activities offered in the Washington Aerospace Scholars program. This summer, Issaquah High School students Alex Whan and Sarah Bonebright, and Courtney Spens, of Hillside Student Community in Bellevue, along with 151 others, participated in and graduated from the Selective Science Program, hosted by the Museum of Flight.

The program started in Washington in 2007 and is an educational experience open to high school juniors statewide. Houston has a similar program, entitled Houston Aerospace Scholars.

Melissa Edwards, the program’s administrator, credits it with promoting science, technology, engineering and math careers.

“This is a good program for those interested in science, and looks great as a reference on a resume,” she said.

Whan said he applied because he’s always been interested in science.

“I saw a flier in my science classroom, and because this is something I’ve always kind of wanted to do, I decided to apply,” he said.

According to Whan, the program has two phases: The first includes an application explaining why the student wants to do the program, as well as proof of at least a 3.0 grade point average and recommendation letters. Every two weeks, students who are chosen for the first phase complete assignments and take quizzes. The grades on these determine who will move on to phase two, the actual residency program.

“I believe the top 25 percent of students from phase one moved on to phase two,” Whan said.

Phase two took place this past summer at the Museum of Flight. Students stayed at the SeaTac Marriott hotel for one week while working on their final product, designing and planning a human mission to Mars.

According to Spens, who along with Whan moved on to phase two, participants were divided into four groups, each based on one aspect of planning the mock mission.

“My group dealt with working there once we actually got to Mars,” she said. “We looked at things such as materials that we would need, the types of experiments we would perform, as well as any planned research that was needed.”

Along with planning the Mars mission, the students built rockets and went on field trips to Boeing. The challenges earned students faux money if they won, and the person who used his or her money in the smartest way possible was considered the winner for the entire week.

Whan recommends the program to anyone interested in any type of science.

“The WAS program gave me a really detailed view of what aerospace science really is all about,” Whan said. “There are things I know now that I didn’t know before doing the program. The hands-on part made it really interesting and fun.”

Spens recommends the program for future networks in the science field.

“For anyone interested in aerospace engineering or in becoming an astronaut, this program is absolutely recommended,” she said. “The networking you can gain from this experience can make either of these careers happen.”

Stephanie Small  is a student in the University Of Washington Department Of Communication News Laboratory.

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