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NASA Camp Opens World of Possibilities in Aerospace Engineering for 19 High School Students

DMC and TAMUK partnering on NASA planning grant to encourage South Texas underrepresented minority students to pursue studies and careers in aerospace engineering and other STEM-related fields

Article by Melinda Eddleman

NASACamp_Rocket Team Raul Chavez_Sai Varshini Chinnasani_Yadiel Escamilla

(Click on photos to enlarge and for cutlines)

Showing students the world of possibilities is one way to encourage them to pursue specific careers. Nineteen local high school students explored those possibilities by participating during a one-day NASA Camp on June 4 at the Del Mar College (DMC) Windward Campus that introduced them to principles associated with aerospace engineering.

The learning experience was part of a $1.2 million National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) planning grant that was awarded to Texas A&M University-Kingsville (TAMUK) in late August 2021 with the College among the partnering higher education institutions. The grant focuses on aerospace engineering but also encourages students to pursue other studies and careers based on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

“We’re developing and implementing different intervention activities focused on aerospace engineering for pre-college students and students taking college credits at high schools, along with community college and university level students in South Texas,” said Yan Xu, DMC professor of computer science and a co- investigator of the planning grant.

Our efforts are addressing an essential challenge of 21st century American society and confronting the lack of a diverse STEM-capable workforce that leverages the creativity and talents of all society to send humans back to the Moon and on to Mars.

Del Mar College will receive $180,000 over the three-year grant period to close the gap among underrepresented minorities, specifically Hispanics and women, in aerospace engineering.

DMC and TAMUK organizers held the first of two NASA Camps on May 21 with a full house. The learning opportunity accommodated 20 students, who represented CCISD––including Carroll, King and  Moody––Flour Bluff, London and Skidmore-Tynan High Schools.

NASACamp_student Grace Atkins drawing out rocket plans

The new group of students on June 4 represented Carroll, King, Ray and Flour Bluff High Schools, the online James Madison High School and one home-schooled student, who spent their Saturday building and launching air powered and solid fuel rockets, building and flying different airplane models and flying drones. These activities were led by DMC Computer Science, Engineering and Advanced Technology Department faculty Nedal Shheber, associate professor of computer science and engineering, and John “JJ” Nelson, assistant professor of geographic information systems.

Of the NASA Camp, home-schooled 14-year-old  Grace Atkins said that while her mother signed her up for the experience, “I don’t really know what I want to do just yet, but I’m exploring the possibilities and learning a lot about teamwork.”

NASA Camp_DMC Faculty_Nedal Shheber and Yan Xu

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.

Xu noted that besides annual high school camps, the NASA planning grant also supports Del Mar College and Texas A&M University-Kingsville 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. 

“Through the grant and its initiatives, partners want to inspire students to build on their interests and passion for STEM fields, especially in aerospace engineering-related careers,” he said. “As a result, we hope to see aerospace engineering booming in the Coastal Bend and across South Texas.”



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.