Students put knowledge to the test during NASA visit last semester



Students had the opportunity to build a Mars rover at the NASA Center in Virginia.

Jessica Deegan, News Editor

When a sporadic opportunity was presented to two of Madison College’s students, they had to go out of their comfort zone, travel across the country and put their knowledge to the test while standing in the intimidating shadow of NASA engineers.

Students Andrew Fedosky and Rysa Weigel-Sterr both had the remarkable opportunity to visit a NASA center and have an experience of a lifetime. The journey to get there, however, was well worth the hard work.

After hearing a positive response from a friend who participated in the program, Weigel-Sterr applied, and took advantage of an opportunity that she didn’t know would later change her life. “It was almost surreal. I just felt my heart drop when I found out I was going,” smiled Weigel-Sterr.

Following her NASA experience last September, at a center in Virginia, Weigel-Sterr raved to Fedosky and encouraged him to apply as well. A couple months later, in February, Fedosky flew to a Mississippi center to start his own life-changing experience.

“I didn’t think I would be able to hang out with the crowd who was doing stuff with NASA, and that changed almost instantly when I got there – the people on my team were actually very similar to me,” said Fedosky.

There are two phases to the experience, the online and the on-site. First, Weigel-Sterr and Fedosky had to complete a five-week online course consisting of readings, videos, quizzes and a final project. The five-week course was graded, and was what determined whether or not the on-site experience was a possibility for them. Besides Weigel-Sterr and Fedosky, there were an additional 50 people in each of their groups from around the country that were also chosen to attend the on-site experience.

When they introduced us, they said, “You all are going to feel like new people after this, and I didn’t believe them…but then I came back feeling like a rejuvenated version of myself,” grinned Fedosky.

Although they were in different states, and attended the program at different times, both appeared at their designated center for four days, and had a heavy schedule from start to finish.

“There was no sleeping…I probably got less than 15 hours the entire time. We were always doing something, either touring the campus, or working with our teams on the project and building our rover,” explained Weigel-Sterr.

During the on-site experience, two full days were dedicated to planning, designing, building, and testing a rover. Their mission was to build a rover that was capable of completing various challenges like, traveling over a mars like terrene, gathering rocks, and avoiding potential hazards.

Fedosky reflected on what he was so fortunate to watch, listen to, and embrace while at the center, and commented that they “worked under the supervision of real employees there, and it was very much like NASA was brining us into their world for four days. We got to watch them test, live, an RS-25 rocket engine, which is the kind of engine that they’re going to be putting on the SLS… the next big, rockin’ model that they expect to take people to the moon.”

Weigel-Sterr remembered seeing wind tunnels, crash testing sites, and several NASA employees “hunched over their computers working while doing a live test.”

“There were just so many incredible people…the people on my team, the people running the program, the engineers that worked with us, everyone was so friendly and open. It was really just like a giant support system,” said Weigel-Sterr.

Fedosky also appreciated the people and was heavily motivated by the speakers that were presented. “They were all extremely positive about wherever you are coming from or what your background is. They have opportunities for people at all types of levels, in all different kinds of fields, it doesn’t have to be STEM related.”

Both Weigel-Sterr and Fedosky think of their NASA experience as a positive and inspiring event in their lives and they encourage everyone to apply, regardless of their profession. In fact, Weigel-Sterr had a group member that was an educator, and planned on teaching his class everything he could when he returned.

“I’ve never really been a big space geek…ever,” said Fedosky, “But it started out as something that I was just very much interested in doing, and an experience to have, but one of the things that the program really instilled in me, is that NASA is about way more than space…. it is not just astronomy by any means, and it has made it to where I am a lot more interested in possibly doing something with NASA in the future. It was very stimulating, the whole experience made NASA feel like a possibility, whereas before doing it, I never would have never that thought I could do it. It has given me a big confidence boost in myself.”

Weigel-Sterr had a similar take-away in that she now has an enhanced confidence, and drive to finish school. With a slight grin, she said, “I didn’t feel like I would have anything to contribute. Usually when I am doing group projects I just kind of sit back… but I defiantly thought that there was space for me to contribute and have my own input. We don’t give ourselves enough credit for doing the things we do, so just do it. It defiantly made me more excited to keep going to school.”

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