WAS Day 5

Washington Aerospace Scholars, Day 5, Thursday, July 18, 2013

Thursday was the last full day of activities for Week 4 of the 2013 Washington State Aerospace Scholars program. Since Friday is the banquet, which concludes the program, students were busy today preparing presentations and poster boards for that presentation. There were also Impact Statements to write, wherein students describe how the program has affected them and their career plans. Those of us on staff also have our student evaluations due the next day.

Red Team is pretty well prepared for Friday, but I notice a little bit of complacency (hubris?) developing in some of the more influential members of the team. I’m going to have to think more about this, since I don’t want to gloss over it. What I am trying to put my finger on is a certain resentment that develops in highly performing students that they have worked so hard, when they see others around them perhaps not working so hard, but apparently having more “fun”. The perfect storm happens when high-achievers realize they have met all the requirements, worked really hard, and then see others perhaps doing better than them (on some arbitrary scale) but enjoying better morale or team esprit d ’corps.

One high point (literally and figuratively) of our week was the launching of rockets. After a quick briefing from our rocket expert each team got to press the button igniting the engine and sending our creations skyward. Red Team rocket launched, cruised and deployed parachute successfully for a safe return of the rock “sample” to earth. Way to go team! In fact, all teams had successful launch and recovery of their rockets.

After the launch activity, we traveled to Aerojet where we got a tour of their facility. I’m intrigued by the thought of standing in a place that has put together high reliability rocket motors that have traveled (or will soon travel) to *all* of the planets. Aerojet is an incredible story of business started near Boeing’s plants, then moved to Redmond, and today supplies rockets that have *never* been the cause of a NASA mission failure. Great job Aerojet!

After returning to MoF, teams worked on final preparations for our presentations on Friday. We also took part in our last Engineering Challenge of the week, getting a Lego Mindstorms Rover to visit as many rock samples as possible on a simulated Martian terrain and return to base. Red Team perfected a route to the first two samples but run out of time to perfect a path to a third sample. Folks on the team were disappointed. Our post-mortem analysis of our task raised a couple of questions. Why were our paths to the first two samples unnecessarily complex? Why was our rover design less than optimal for the terrain and mission requirements? It is a good question why sometimes bright people miss elegant, simpler solutions, while opting for more complex or complicated solutions that inherently have more failure modes.

Our final activities of the evening involved signing some pictures for distribution to WAS Program supporters. (Thank You Washington Aerospace Scholar Program Supporters!) We also completed some final housekeeping tasks for Red Team.

I was impressed by a presentation at the end of our day from the Team America Rocket Challenge which offers cash prizes for student competitions in the field of rocketry. It has been a constant theme this week that students need more hands-on experience in their lives and in their educational environments, and today was no exception. Can imagine what would happen if we had not only soccer-moms, but rocket-dads? What if participation maker-related activities such as rockets, robotics, and remote-controlled hobbies rivaled things such as sports and video games?

My takeaway from this day was the challenge it is to motivate those otherwise highly motivated students to go beyond the checklists (grades) that they have gotten so good at mastering. The real adventure lies beyond expending just enough effort to do just a little better than your current peers or “competition”. Push beyond a higher level of common mediocrity, go for it!

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