The Citizen – Key West: http://keysnews.com/node/62734
BY GENA PARSONS Special to the Citizen
NASA FSGC Funds Robotic Team at Florida Keys Community College
A special course at Florida Keys Community College this semester connects students with NASA to fuel dreams of reaching for the stars.
For the first time, the Florida Space Grant Consortium is offering its NASA Olympionics program in community colleges, and FKCC is one of three schools awarded the grant.
Over the course of three months, students, in teams of five, will construct a robotic vehicle, launch a hydropowered rocket and build a high-altitude balloon. Each student receives a $5,000 scholarship and a trip to the Kennedy Space Center in June, where FKCC students will compete against their counterparts from Hillsborough and North Florida community colleges.
“This is spectacular for FKCC. We’ve never had this sort of opportunity,” said faculty advisor Dawn Ellis. “Not only are they learning great skills, but they are also earning money this semester. Being in the Keys, our students work very hard. They work multiple jobs. So this might give them the opportunity to not work so much this semester and concentrate on their studies.”
FKCC received word in September that it had been awarded $134,000 to cover two years of Olympionics activities. Students applied during the fall semester with 10 being selected from a variety of disciplines including computer science, engineering and biology.
Savana Hardin, 16, a dual-enrollment Key West High School senior, sees the Olympionics as a pathway to better connections and opportunities as she pursues acceptance from universities such as Yale.
“I’m so excited. I really want to get into robotics. That’s my dream profession. That’s the career I really want to get into — building robots of some sort and being able to help people through technology,” Hardin said.
The grant creates strategic relationships between the awarded institutions and NASA Centers to attract and retain more students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education programs.
Florida Space Grant Consortium Director Dr. Jaydeep Mukherjee, in Key West to launch the inaugural community college project, advised students to enjoy the process and take advantage of the connections the consortium can provide in their quest for higher education and employment.
“We hope that all of them remain in a STEM field. They’re still exploring. We’re giving them the opportunity to see whether they want to do it or not,” he said.
Freshman Tim Yakubowski moved from Montana specifically to study marine biology and environmental technology at FKCC. The double major serves as an aquaculture lab technician. He hopes to eventually earn a doctorate degree focusing on coral reef conservation and restoration. He believes having the NASA Olympionics on his resume gives him an advantage as he submits transfer applications.
“I have actually been chosen by NASA for a program. I think that will set me apart. NASA is pretty much the biggest name in science. You can’t really go higher than that, in my opinion,” he said.