Ten Florida Keys Community College students triumphantly returned to campus after participating in the first NASA Engineering Challenges at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL, June 10-12, 2015. The three-day event was the culmination of a semester-long program created to engage community college students with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) educational activities and to inspire further interest and academic pursuits in these fast-growing fields. The two FKCC teams, entitled Orion and Black Mesa, brought home one gold medal and

The event, held in NASA’s Visitors Complex, was comprised of three challenges: a high-altitude balloon experiment, hydro-powered rocket launch, and a robotic vehicle mission. Both FKCC teams worked together on the high-altitude balloon experiment which called for the students to elevate a package 100,000 feet in the air to test various ways of gathering environmental data via an attached flight computer. The hydro-powered rocket launch, which earned FKCC’s team Black Mesa first place, required each team to build a rudimentary rocket and chart its functionality at various pressure levels. The last challenge required the teams to remotely navigate a vehicle created at their home colleges through a simulated lunar obstacle course from a separate control room via cameras and computers.

“This is one of the best opportunities I’ve seen available for our students,” said Dawn Ellis, FKCC computer science instructor and advisor for FKCC’s NASA Engineering Challenge teams. “All of the students were interested in STEM fields. This experience showed them how research, experimentation, and collaboration can apply to a variety of career paths, including highly-sophisticated industries like space exploration.”

FKCC was one of only three colleges in Florida to receive a $134,000 grant from the Florida Space Grant Consortium to support this program for two years. The grant provides $5,000 scholarships to the participating students. Since January, they worked through a series of experiments and challenge projects in preparation for the event at the Kennedy Space Center. All of these students are now eligible for internships at NASA so long as they are enrolled in a Florida college or university.
FKCC will begin recruiting students in the fall semester to participate in the 2016 event.