Apr 10, 2014

Columbia State Students Selected for NASA Project

(COLUMBIA, Tenn. - April 10, 2014) - - - Columbia State Community College students, Janelle Williams and Cory Stephenson were two of 40 students chosen to participate in the National Community College Aerospace Scholars program this spring at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

"It is an honor to have two students chosen. The entire science, technology and mathematics division is extremely proud that Janelle and Cory were selected as participants in the scholarship program," said Glenn Hudson, associate professor of mathematics. "The experience provides excellent opportunities to interact with professional scientists and engineers as well as with other students from across the U.S."

While at NASA, Williams and Stephenson joined other community college students that were split into teams and instructed to establish fictitious companies that would compete for a NASA contract. After forming the company specifics, such as name, motto and logo, each team was challenged to design and build a 3-D model of a Mars rover using a programmable robotics kit that would allow it to perform specific functions.

"The object of each mission was to program the rovers to navigate obstacle courses that represented the surface of Mars, including the rescue of another rover," Williams said. "The exercises were established with the long-term idea of eventually colonizing Mars."

During their time at NASA, Williams and Stephenson had an opportunity to interact with NASA engineers, educators and astronauts who acted as mentors and guides throughout the competition, awarding each team points based on specific criteria, such as mission completion, teamwork and other assignments.

"As a whole, the experience has gotten me more interested in robotics and the part they play in space exploration and on Earth," Stephenson said.

Williams said her team won the competition with the most points, finishing the first assigned mission with 210 million points. Her team was also the only team to come close to finishing the second mission.

"It was definitely a learning experience," Williams said. "Being chosen as the program engineer was a huge learning curve, and it definitely provided me with a whole new set of leadership skills."

In order to be considered for the program, both Williams and Stephenson had to complete a rigorous and competitive application process, essay and two-week online course. They also had to have nine hours of completed STEM-related courses in order to apply.

Hudson commented that although the college has been participating actively in the program for nearly ten years, Williams was the first female Columbia State student chosen for the program.

"It was the experience of a lifetime," Williams said. "There were about 15 women there, and it was a great mixture of students of all ages. Everybody worked well together, and I made some great friends."

Williams, a Loretto resident and mathematics major, said she is planning to continue her studies at the University of Alabama in Huntsville this fall, where she'll double major in applied mathematics and applied physics. She also plans to continue her education by earning an engineering degree and wants to work for NASA.

"I had so much fun with the robotics part of this," Williams said. "I really feel that this is the direction I want to go. I think it would be amazing to design a robot that would be able to collect data from deep space."

As a non-traditional student, Williams said she came back to school to finish her degree and set an example for her children as they are considering college in the future. With full support from her husband and kids, she said she's excited to be back in school with a purpose.

Stephenson, a Columbia resident and pre-engineering major, is a 2010 graduate of Spring Hill High School and plans to transfer to Tennessee Technological University in the fall where he'll major in engineering. He said NASA has invited him to participate in an internship program next summer.

"I want to continue to contribute to NASA," said Stephenson. "I don't have any strict idea of what I want to do, but I just know that I really love electronics, math and science."

The NCAS is a semester-long educational program in which a select group of students participate in web-based activities, a behind-the-scenes tour of NASA and a three-day hands-on engineering experience. The students chosen as aerospace scholars must be U.S. citizens that are currently pursuing an undergraduate degree at a community college and should have a strong interest in math, science, engineering and computer science.

Photo Caption:
Janelle Williams of Loretto

Photo Caption:
Cory Stephenson of Columbia

Columbia State is a two-year college, serving a nine-county area in southern Middle Tennessee with locations in Columbia, Franklin, Lawrenceburg, Lewisburg and Clifton. As Tennessee's first community college, Columbia State is committed to increasing access and enhancing diversity at all five campuses. Columbia State is a member of the Tennessee Board of Regents, one of the largest higher education systems in the nation. For more information, please visit www.columbiastate.edu.

Tennessee's Community Colleges is a system of 13 colleges offering a high-quality, affordable, convenient and personal education to prepare students to achieve their educational and career goals in two years or less. We offer associate degree and certificate programs, workforce development programs and transfer pathways to four-year degrees. For more information, please visit us online at tncommunitycolleges.org.

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