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High School Students Learn to Soar During This Year’s NASA Camp in Effort to Pique Their Interest in Aerospace Engineering

Del Mar College and Texas A&M University-Kingsville partner for second year as part of NASA Planning Grant to encourage South Texas underrepresented minority students to pursue studies and STEM-related careers

Article by Melinda Eddleman

NASA Camp 2023_DMC Faculty member and two participants ready to launch rocket

Even though the winds on Saturday, April 29, reached upwards of 45 to 55 mph outside the Emergency Training Building on Del Mar College’s (DMC) Windward Campus, area high school students shot off their hand-built solid fuel and air-powered rockets during the second one-day NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) Aerospace Engineering Camp for this year. The camo is offered in partnership with Texas A&M University-Kingsville (TAMUK) to introduce students to principles associated with aerospace engineering as a means to encourage these young minds to pursue studies and careers in the field.

The learning experience is part of a three-year $1.2 million NASA Planning Grant that was awarded to TAMUK in late August 2021 with the College among the partnering higher education institutions. The funding incudes DMC receiving $180,000 during the grant period to close the gap in the aerospace engineering field among underrepresented minorities, specifically Hispanics and women.

The purpose of this project is to provide opportunities for students, especially those underrepresented in STEM fields, to engage with NASA’s aeronautics, space and other STEM-related activities in support of a diverse workforce for NASA and the aerospace industry in the future, so this is a great opportunity for students attending the Costal Bend’s regional universities, colleges and high schools.

Yan Xu, DMC Professor of Computer Science

DMC and TAMUK organizers held the first of the two 2023 NASA Aerospace Engineering Camps on April 22 with a full house. The learning opportunity accommodated 22 students, who represented CCISD––including Moody High School and the Harold T. Branch Academy––as well as Calallen, Robstown Early College, St. John Paull II and Tuloso-Midway High Schools, Incarnate Word Academy and one home-schooled student.

Three students with DMC faculty Yan Xu and Nedal Sheber

Sixteen more high school students spent April 29 building and launching their air-powered and solid fuel rockets, building and flying different airplane models and flying professional-grade drones under supervision with instruction led by DMC Computer Science, Engineering and Advanced Technology Department faculty. Twenty-two students who originally registered for the second camp represented 10 high schools with six area independent school districts, including one in San Antonio, and one academy. Those schools include the Collegiate, Moody, Veterans Memorial and W.B. Ray High Schools with the Corpus Christi Independent School District, Banquete, Calallen, Flour Bluff and Odem High Schools, the Incarnate Word Academy and Luther Burbank High School with the San Antonio Independent School District.

Interest in the NASA Aerospace Engineering Camp has even generated a waiting list for bext year when DMC and TAMUK offer the free learning experience, again.

“We received many applications and queries for the camp; and both camps filled very quickly, so we have a waiting list and plan to offer two more camps in 2024, first using the list we generated this year,” noted Xu. “We want to use these camps and the activities they provide to inspire our students to build on their interests in and passion for aerospace engineering-related careers,”

Making progress on the project

As the lead institution, TAMUK received the grant through NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Project, which is a component of the agency’s Office of STEM Encouragement and a phased partnership with the National Science Foundation. Del Mar College, along with the other partner institutions, is part of A&M-Kingsville’s Parallel Pathways of Excellence to Engage Minority Students in Aerospace Engineering project that falls under the NASA planning grant.

Planning project objectives are to create a concept paper for broadening participation in aerospace engineering through a coalition of Minority Serving Institutions, high schools, the private sector, libraries and nonprofit, state and governmental organizations as well as to create a comprehensive action plan with detailed intervention activities by testing and assessing the impacts of various approaches during the planning stage.

Besides annual high school camps, the NASA Planning Grant also supports DMC and TAMUK classroom activities and materials with NASA-relevant content, student summer research internships, career readiness through paid internship opportunities and industry webinars. 

Ultimately, a long-term goal is to develop the first Aerospace Engineering Bachelor of Science degree program in South Texas and expand its capacity through multi-sector partnerships to synthesize and enhance the broadening of participation among historically underserved groups. TAMUK currently offers an Aerospace Engineering Minor Program.

As aerospace-related industries continue booming in South Texas, involvement among local communities and the private sector is a crucial component. We really appreciate NASA providing this grant to South Texas’ institutions and communities. It will leverage the creativity and talents of our students to play an important role in the future as part of the mission to send humans to the Moon, again, and on to Mars.

Yan Xu, DMC Professor of Computer Science
About Del Mar College

Del Mar College empowers students to achieve their dreams. We offer quality programs, individual attention, outstanding instruction through faculty with real-world experience and affordable costs to credit and noncredit students in Corpus Christi and the South Texas Coastal Bend area. Nationally recognized while locally focused, we’re ranked in the top two percent of community colleges in the country granting associate degrees to Hispanic students (Community College Week). Del Mar College focuses on offering our students programs that match current or emerging career opportunities. Whether students are interested in the fine arts, sciences, business, occupational or technical areas, students get the education they need for the future they want at Del Mar College.