STEM Reaches High Altitude at PPCC

By Camille Liptak

At the college Leadership Council Meeting on Friday, Oct. 20, PPCC students Rebecca Sachaj and Robert Whitley presented pivotal moments from their 2017 STEM internships to President Bolton and key staff.

Whitley and his team in the DemoSAT program drafted and designed a Cost Efficient Air Sampling System. The purpose of their mission challenge was to collect high altitude data readings as high as 100,000 ft. in the air.

The task was completed with, “grit, gusto, and standing on my head,” Whitley said.

According to the COSGC website, DemoSat programs present students with a challenging opportunity to “design, fabricate, launch, recover, and analyze data from balloon payloads on which they design their own experiments ranging from atmospheric characterization to bacteria experiments and technology demonstrations.”

These launches take place only three times per year. Whitley’s team participated in Spring 2017 mission, along with another group of PPCC students.

It was up to Whitley and his team to ensure their design worked to the specifications required by the project. The other group of students launched a camera that captured active shots of Whitley’s group’s payload as it ascended and descended.

In spite of demanding problem solving, redesigns, and repairs, Whitely and his team won within their group at the competition at the COSGC symposium.

Whitley thanked the Colorado Space Grant Consortium, Edge of Space Sciences, and PPCC. Although the internship is funded by NASA, the COSGC ran the program and approved teams’ designs, and ESS ran the flight and assisted Whitley’s team with setting up and tracking the balloon payload.

Whitley is concurrently enrolled at PPCC and UCCS where he studies Mechanical Engineering. He plans to pursue a career in aerospace. His career path was up in the air until he participated in the DemoSAT internship.

The COSGC symposium presentation and competition allowed him to connect with several aerospace and engineering industry professionals.

Whitley described his time in the DemoSAT internship as, “the best experience of my life.”

PPCC sophomore Rebecca Sachaj is a dual major in Math and Physics. She was part of the NASA National Community College Aerospace Scholars program, where she toured the Johnson Space Center workshop and participated in 4 days of, “nonstop work”.

NCAS gives community college STEM students to understand of the work required for STEM industries like NASA.

Despite being intimidated by the NASA name, Sachaj applied for the internship at the reinforcement of PPCC Math Professor, Gwen Wiley.

Sachaj made it clear that students thinking of applying to this opportunity or others like it should embrace their individual strengths like she did. “There is something unique that only you can bring to NASA, and NASA is looking for that one unique thing,” Sachaj said.

The objective of the workshop was to create an imaginary company, use STEM knowledge to program and engineer a project rover that could work consistently, and present it to NASA.

Sachaj’s team was made up of individuals from a variety of background and experiences. The one thing they had in common was thinking outside of the box.

Her unique role in the team was marketing. She designed a brochure and produced a video for her team’s imaginary company. At the end of the workshop, Sachaj was given one of two student awards, the CAPCOM award for exceptional communication (it’s worth noting here that the multi-talented Sachaj also won the PPCC Robert Burns Memorial Poetry Award in the spring and was featured in the 2017 edition of Parley).

Sachaj said the NASA NCAS internship was an “amazing fantastic experience that has definitely been the highlight of my life so far.” This is partly due to the like-minded people she met, worked and bonded with during the intense 4 days.

Her like-minded support group of creative thinkers won the Team Competition at the onsite workshop.

Both Whitley and Sachaj highlighted the dedication of the PPCC math faculty, and how that motivated them to pursue the STEM internships. “I was so inspired by how dedicated the teachers were to applying math outside of the classroom,” Sachaj said.

Sachaj plans on transferring to a 4-year university where she will pursue more STEM-related opportunities. She hopes to eventually work on aerospace areas or space station food system research and development for NASA.

For more information on STEM at PPCC email gwen.wiley@ppcc.edu

2 thoughts on “STEM Reaches High Altitude at PPCC”
  1. Thank you to the writer for showcasing such amazing talent, and to the students for participating with such vigor! Huge accomplishments on both!

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