Success Stories

NASA Selects Arizona Proposal “ASCENDing Further” to Increase STEM Education at Community and Technical Colleges

NASA Selects Arizona Proposal “ASCENDing Further:  Engaging More Students from Community Colleges in STEM Activities through Expansion of the Arizona Space Grant Consortium ASCEND Program” to Increase STEM Education at Community and Technical Colleges

One of the most effective vehicles for engagement of community college students in STEM activities in Arizona has been AZSGC’s ASCEND (Aerospace STEM Challenges to Educate New Discoverers) statewide workforce development program, in which teams of students from affiliate schools, including community colleges, design, build, fly, operate, and analyze payloads launched on high altitude weather balloons. We propose to expand ASCEND in four ways.

First, by increasing the number of balloon launches, we will be able to increase the number of community colleges participating. At the identified community colleges, we will build engineering or science courses around the ASCEND program, as has been done at the most successful of our current community college partners. Second, we will provide scholarships for community college participants, to enable financially-constrained students, many of whom are working more than one job while also taking classes, to take the time to work on ASCEND without having to suffer financial consequences. Third, we will provide activities to help the community college student participants make the transition to our partner four-year universities, both by involving them in appropriate activities on the university campuses while they are still at community college and by linking them with Space Grant student participants at the universities if they move on to there. Finally, at one remote tribal college, where we have been unable to develop a full team to participate in the normal ASCEND program, we will conduct a two-day workshop leading to a balloon launch with a simplified payload, to bring some of the excitement of the science and technology of a balloon experiment to students who would otherwise be unable to participate.

PCC NW Team Brings Innovative and Dynamic Payloads to AZSGC ASCEND! Program

PCC NW Team Brings Innovative and Dynamic Payloads to AZSGC ASCEND! Program

PCC was one of the first two community colleges in Arizona to join the ASCEND! program in 2008.  Most of our students are volunteers, and balance the demands of academics, work and family, to participate in this project.  They have created innovative and dynamic payloads, including a clear, self-stabilizing cylinder and a winged torpedo, and have obtained fantastic images and video of near space.  Student project design, testing, and implementation are mentored by Professor Mike Sampogna and analysis by Dr. Denise Meeks, who also maintains the PCC flight history website.

Pima Community College Northwest Campus Arizona NASA Space Grant ASCEND!
Tim Frank’s leadership of SMCC ASCEND! Team Benefits College's Engineering Program and Students

Tim Frank’s leadership of SMCC ASCEND! Team Benefits Engineering Program and Students

Since joining AZSGC in 2008, SMCC has been phenomenally successful at using their involvement in the AZSGC ASCEND! (balloon sat) program to engage students, and ultimately reshape the college’s engineering program. ASCEND! began at SMCC as an extracurricular project for engineering students, and became a class in 2009. Ultimately, the popularity and effectiveness of the class led to a redesign of the engineering curriculum to emphasize on hands-on activities--in keeping with current educational theories--and student enrollment grew markedly.

As a result, beginning in 2010, Frank won the first of two Goodrich Foundation grants that facilitated upgrading the SMCC laboratory facilities and paying modest stipends to participating students. Goodrich support also enabled the ASCEND! course, heretofore devoted to designing and building payloads for launch via high altitude weather balloons, to expand to include other design projects.

Nearly simultaneously with the first Goodrich Foundation grant, SMCC was approached by the Honeywell Corporation about the possibility of setting up an internship program, primarily related to a Honeywell contract for a portion of the Orion spacecraft.  As a result, what started as a project to build balloon payloads to simulate the experiences needed to work in the aerospace industry led to even more direct connections to such careers. One SMCC ASCEND! alumna recently completed a bachelor’s in engineering degree at ASU and was hired by Honeywell, and many others have gone on to study engineering at four-year universities.

Glendale CC's Arizona Space Grant ASCEND! Team

Glendale CC's Arizona Space Grant ASCEND!

Glendale Community College students in Space Grant mentor John Schneeg's special-projects engineering class successfully built and launched a satellite prototype on a weather balloon through the Arizona Space Grant Consortium's ASCEND! program.

Engineers and Space Scientists of the Future: To the universe – and beyond!