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STEM supporters unite to encourage students in ‘Stellar’ exploration

Oren Harper and Garrett Farrar prepare for the Air Force Association StellarXplorers space system design competition in November 2016. Both students at Coffee County Central High School are members of the Air Force Junior ROTC. They recently competed in March as the Coffee County High School Team One and placed second in the competition for the East Region. The High School had two teams who competed in the Prestige Division. As part of the competition, teams must present solutions to a typical space design problem, such as orbit determination, satellite component selection and launch vehicle planning, as outlined in a scenario describing the system’s mission and constraints. The AEDC Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Center coordinator, Jere Matty, and the Women in Defense membership director, Kim Nelson, provided support that enabled the team to compete. (Courtesy photo)

Oren Harper and Garrett Farrar prepare for the Air Force Association StellarXplorers space system design competition in November 2016. Both students at Coffee County Central High School are members of the Air Force Junior ROTC. They recently competed in March as the Coffee County High School Team One and placed second in the competition for the East Region. The High School had two teams who competed in the Prestige Division. As part of the competition, teams must present solutions to a typical space design problem, such as orbit determination, satellite component selection and launch vehicle planning, as outlined in a scenario describing the system’s mission and constraints. The AEDC Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Center coordinator, Jere Matty, and the Women in Defense membership director, Kim Nelson, provided support that enabled the team to compete. (Courtesy photo)

The Coffee County Central High School Air Force Junior ROTC StellarXplorers Team One received second place in the Air Force Association StellarXplorers space system design competition, Prestige Division, in March. During the competition, teams are asked for their solutions to a typical space design problem, such as orbit determination, satellite component selection and launch vehicle planning, as outlined in a scenario describing the system’s mission and constraints. Pictured, from left, is Chad Overcast, team mentor and AEDC physicist; Team One member Oren Harper; Team Two members Tyler Vaughn and Elisha Carter; Team One member Stuart Jackson; Team Two member Alexander Brown; Team One member Garrett Farrar; and Kim Nelson, team mentor and Women in Defense membership director. Not pictured: Team Two member Malachi Lovely. (Courtesy photo)

The Coffee County Central High School Air Force Junior ROTC StellarXplorers Team One received second place in the Air Force Association StellarXplorers space system design competition, Prestige Division, in March. During the competition, teams are asked for their solutions to a typical space design problem, such as orbit determination, satellite component selection and launch vehicle planning, as outlined in a scenario describing the system’s mission and constraints. Pictured, from left, is Chad Overcast, team mentor and AEDC physicist; Team One member Oren Harper; Team Two members Tyler Vaughn and Elisha Carter; Team One member Stuart Jackson; Team Two member Alexander Brown; Team One member Garrett Farrar; and Kim Nelson, team mentor and Women in Defense membership director. Not pictured: Team Two member Malachi Lovely. (Courtesy photo)

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, TENN. -- The AEDC Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Center coordinator and the Women in Defense STEM organizers joined forces to increase STEM activities in the lower southern Tennessee area through the StellarXplorers program.

The program is an Air Force Association space system design competition which is geared toward pre-college age students. According to the program factsheet, teams are asked for their solutions to a typical space design problem, such as orbit determination, satellite component selection and launch vehicle planning, as outlined in a scenario describing the system’s mission and constraints.

For the first time this school year, Jere Matty, AEDC STEM coordinator, worked with Kim Nelson, WID membership director and assistant director of Business Development for Delta Solutions & Strategies, LLC., to provide material support and mentors for two Coffee County Central High School Air Force Junior ROTC StellarXplorers teams.

“Women in Defense Tennessee Valley Chapter provided two laptop computers for Coffee County Air Force Junior ROTC to use in the StellarXplorers program,” Nelson said. “These were Hewlett-Packard - Envy touch-screen laptops with Intel Core i7, 16GB memory and 1TB hard drive. These were needed in order to run the Satellite Tool Kit, an Analytical Graphics, Inc. product.”

Matty ensured that the team was registered and provided with the Satellite Tool Kit software and t-shirts. He also recruited Chad Overcast, AEDC physicist and Satellite Tool Kit subject matter expert, as a mentor for the group alongside Nelson and the team coach, Maj. David Clontz, with the High School.

Overcast believes the experience in this competition is beneficial for the students.

“StellarXplorers is important because it not only exposes students to space systems analysis and design, but they also learn more broadly applied skills,” Overcast said. “Teams learned how to operate within trade space, do cost-benefit analysis, and perform under pressure in an environment with unknowns and without a clear-cut right answer. This sets the students up for success in the real world whether working with space systems or not.”

Both teams competed in the Prestige Division of the competition in March where team one took second place in the East Region.

This was the first STEM effort in this area for the WID.

“Our Chapter has a dedicated STEM director, Debbie Fraley, who works with local schools in Huntsville to promote STEM,” Nelson said. “I asked Debbie if she would be willing to pursue STEM initiatives in this area, since we have a lot of defense industry personnel here and want to grow our WID chapter to include them. Debbie was all for sharing the wealth to reach more kids and together we proposed, and were approved, a $5,000 budget for developing WID STEM support in the southern Tennessee area.”

The WID Tennessee Valley Chapter, a national security organization, are working to broaden their support not only in STEM but to women who work in national security.

“Most of our WID Chapter members are located in the Huntsville, Alabama, area,” Nelson said. “We are very interested in getting more men and women in the Arnold Air Force Base region to participate in WID and [we] held a membership drive there last May. We have also met with personnel from the University of Tennessee Space Institute, the Hands-On Science Center, Motlow Community College and the AEDC STEM office to bring STEM projects here locally. Jere Matty and Carole Thomas have been fantastic partners and we hope to continue to work with them and increase our STEM work here.”