With the exciting October news of more launches coming to NASA Wallops Flight Facility(WFF), Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), and Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority(Virginia Space), the career and technical education focus at Eastern Shore Community College adds more “fuel” to already exciting career opportunities for local students.
A strong and active partnership between ESCC, MARS, and Virginia Space has grown out of the college’s National Science Foundation (NSF) Advanced Technological Education (ATE) LEAN Internship Project (Award ID #1304821). This project successfully placed students in real-world, work-based learning experiences over a 12-week paid internship in the summers of 2014 through 2017. Eight of the eleven MARS interns subsequently secured full-time employment at MARS and continue to be employed there as technicians, inspectors, and support specialists.
This project was followed by the awarding of a second NSF ATE grant in the amount of $365,508 to Eastern Shore Community College (ESCC) for the project, Creating Technical Scholars (CTS): A Model for Structured Pathways (Award ID #1700550). Beginning August 1, 2017, this three-year project is creating seamless transition pathways from local high schools to ESCC and then on to either advanced education and/or employment in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The specific programs of study for this project, which lead to high-tech jobs, are Industrial Technology, HVAC, Welding, Electricity, and Cybersecurity. NASA WFF and Virginia Space/MARS need trained individuals to fill a variety of technician level positions. Having students who train locally and want to stay local is important to employers on the Eastern Shore as this helps to reduce turnover in the workforce.
Statewide awards were earned through ESCC’s active and vibrant partnerships with NASA WFF, Virginia Space, and MARS. The Virginia Association for Career and Technical Education Awards presented the 2014-2015 Community College Business and Industry Partnership Award to ESCC and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/WFF. In 2017-2018, the award went to ESCC and Virginia Spaceport/MARS. These honors highlight the outstanding efforts made and outcomes achieved as ESCC utilizes grant funding, resources, and key partnerships to significantly impact the local workforce and economy.
Through these NSF grants, ESCC has also been able to fund student participation in valuable opportunities including the “RockSat-C” and “RockOn!” programs. RockSat-C is a program for students to design and build a sounding rocket payload, and launch the payload on a rocket out of Wallops Flight Facility. Payloads are student based with faculty and/or industry involvement only. The program actively engages the students through full design-process mentoring, assisting them through the design phase in the fall semester and leading the teams through testing and integration reviews and Launch Readiness Review in the spring. This is a competitive program, so depending on the available space on the rocket, the most advanced and able payloads are selected for flights.
In the RockOn! workshop,teams learn through hands-on activities how to build a sounding rocket payload or RocketSat. Teams of three build their rocket payload from a kit in three days and launch it on sounding rocket to 73 miles on the sixth day. The hardware in the kit can also be used on future RocketSat flights. Wallops Flight Facility provides the rocket and launch operations for the workshop and also a tour and briefings on sounding rocket environments for future flights. This workshop is organized by the Colorado and Virginia Space Grant Consortiums.
The impact of these programs and internships has led to 23 ESCC students from various program majors (Science, Electronics, Liberal Arts, Business Management, Industrial Technology, and HVAC), being hired between 2012-2018 by employers including NASA, Orbital, Lockheed Martin, LJT & Associates, Sentinel Robotic Solutions, VT Group, DXC Technologies, MARS, and LKC Systems, Inc.
By working with numerous partners at WFF, including the NASA WFF Education Department, ESCC provides students with incredibly valuable opportunities for learning, career development, and life. With an increase in full-service launches and the use of drones for business and recreational purposes on the Eastern Shore, the demand for high skill technicians will continue and Eastern Shore Community College will be there to train and prepare the future workforce.