Author: Michael Drews, Lockheed Martin

What difference could we make if we reached out to high potential science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students on the “bubble” of preparing for college and opened their eyes to the excitement of a career in aerospace? Would it move the needle if we could draw a path across the landscape of decisions they need to make to transition from High School to College to an enduring career? This concept was the genesis of the Student Career Arcs to Professional Engineers (STEM-SCAPE) event that brought together over 140 students and educators to participate in a first of its kind, multi-generational STEM event.

What began as a renewed goal of the Rocky Mountain Section of the American Astronautical Society (AAS) to enhance our educational outreach quickly evolved into the STEM-SCAPE concept. The event was based on answering the questions I had as I traversed a semi-accidental path to becoming an Aerospace Engineering major. Questions like: What do engineers do on a typical day? What projects do they work on? What’s it like to be an engineering major in college? Will it be fun?

By hosting STEM-SCAPE within the AAS Guidance, Navigation and Control (GN&C) Conference, we were able to leverage the exhibits, attendees and atmosphere of a preeminent technical forum with a 38 year history. We partnered with the University of Colorado BOLD (Broadening Opportunity through Leadership and Diversity) Center to solicit and train twenty Aerospace Engineering students to lead an interactive design project. Next, we chose five different Colorado schools and invited them to each contribute twenty 9th and 10th grade students. We wanted to both encourage STEM focused students while also reaching kids on the “STEM bubble,” to spark their interest in engineering. Working with BOLD, we were able to reach a population that was diverse in gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic representation.

With a grant Lockheed Martin (LM) provided for buses, 100 High School students, 20 College students and 20 educators were transported to the conference on Saturday morning, January 31. We started the day with the end in mind: our keynote speaker, Neil Dennehy, is a NASA Fellow for GN&C, and addressed the audience on many spellbinding projects he has worked over his thirty year career. Next we moved a bit earlier in the career arc, as students listened to a panel of Early and Mid-Career engineers from LM and Ball. Panelists discussed the events that shaped their path to become engineers, and answered student questions on choosing a major, or finding scholarships.

After lunch, we held an “Industry Day” to introduce the students to the timed, competitive design project. Moving one step further back the career arc, each team of five High School students were led by a College student Program Manager. Together they developed a spacecraft design to meet the mission requirements of a comet sampling mission, and then presented the results as “orals” to judges from LM and NASA. The room was buzzing with activity as the teams iterated their design solutions to reach their presentation baseline! The full day concluded with a tour of exhibits from twenty international space hardware vendors, and then a trip back down the mountain from the

conference center in Breckenridge. Surveys showed that every element of the event was a success, although perhaps it is best summed up in this quote from one of our CU volunteers:

“This activity was a fantastic experience. It provided an insight into the dynamic world of aerospace for both the high schoolers and those of us studying engineering. It was also a chance for students to apply their skills to a real world assignment to discover their own strengths and their aptitude for a career in STEM.”

Event Photos:

CU student leader coaching design with two high school students:


LM volunteer checking equations for the spacecraft design activity:


Example spacecraft design that accompanied presentation orals:


Twenty teams working hard on their baseline designs:


Related Links:

University of Colorado BOLD Center