NEWS: Oklahoma CTE students selected as finalists in NASA’s App Development Challenge

Moore Norman Technology Center‘s programming & software development program was selected to attend a two-day virtual event experience, culminating NASA’s App Development Challenge (ADC).Teams will present their apps to NASA leadership during the event. And participants will have the chance to meet with industry leaders.

MNTC team members include seniors from Norman High School (NHS), Norman North High School (NNHS) and Moore High School (MHS):

  • Katrina Ashpaugh, NHS
  • Travis Bode, NNHS
  • Dylan Decoster, MHS
  • Julian Lautzenheiser, NNHS
  • Lauren Smith, MHS
  • Christian Zacher, NNHS

Oklahoma software development students selected by NASA for unique approach to wayfinding.

The NASA review team said MNTC’s app has a unique approach to the wayfinding visualization and in the illumination feature. They also appreciated the extra effort for accessibility for those with color blindness when using color data sets within the app. Additionally, NASA applauded Moore Norman’s work with online coding communities for beta testing and community outreach for app improvements.

Culminating event teams selected include:

  • Academies of Loudoun, Leesburg, Virginia
  • Bell Creek Academy High School, Riverview, Florida
  • Bishop O’Connell High School, Arlington, Virginia
  • Falcon Cove Middle School, Weston, Florida
  • McNeil High School, Austin, Texas
  • Middlesex County Academy, Edison, New Jersey
  • Moon Millers: Millburn High School, Millburn, New Jersey
  • Moore Norman Technology Center, Norman, Oklahoma
  • Team Equinox: Gilman School, Baltimore, Maryland
  • Whitney High School, Cerritos, California

What is the App Development Challenge?

NASA presents technical problems to middle and high school students, seeking contributions for future exploration missions. According to NASA STEM, “Students take part in the Artemis Generation endeavors to land American astronauts, including the first woman and the next man, on the Moon by 2024.

NASA Technical Advisor Dr. Bryan Welch said, “The capabilities and the apps varied across the teams. Every team brought a unique aspect to their app that we found to be creative, intuitive and useful. Myself, and several of my reviewers found it inspiring.

ADC engages students in CTE through real-world application.

For this particular ADC, students worked to develop an app that visualizes the South Pole region of the moon. It was developed in collaboration with NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (NASA SCAM) team.

NASA Education Specialist Jamie Semple said, “The SCAM team needed an app that will visualize the moon’s surface for future mission planning and training activities and must also contain a path for exploration and identify communication checkpoint links.”

Students from across the U.S. began work on their apps on Sept. 30 and submitted solution videos online by Nov. 18. And NASA may use one of their apps in the future.

MNTC Programming & Software Development Instructor Rachel Hurt said, “I am always in awe of what my students achieve when they pull together and work to succeed. As our group finished their interview with NASA’s leadership team, I knew that our work helping them sharpen their programming and soft skills was paying off.

“These high school seniors took the knowledge of programming they’ve learned and used it in a real-life scenario. I am extremely proud of these students, and I am extremely proud to be part of an organization that does so much to promote student success.”

“Our team felt honored and proud to be selected as one of the finalists for the NASA ADC,” said Lauren Smith, app team spokesperson. “The obstacles we faced being virtual this year granted us some unique opportunities to hone our skills in self-discipline, team communication and working in a virtual environment.”

Learn more about the NASA App Development Challenge.


Career Aspirations Out of this World: Rachael Mann Interviews Aaron Shepard

Aaron Shepard inspires others and models boldness; he is determined to break the status quo. Too often, we are encouraged to take the safe path and spend a lifetime wondering, “What if?” Aaron took that road, at first, but soon he realized there is never a better time to follow your dreams than now.

Tell me about your current role as a student and NASA intern.

I study electrical engineering at Clemson University. Right now, I’m working on my master’s degree in robotics and intelligent systems, designing flexible robots that can grab satellites in outer space. In summer 2018 I interned at NASA Langley in Hampton, Virginia. As part of a joint project with Uber, our team built virtual reality simulators for a flying taxi service that Uber plans to offer in the 2030s. I worked primarily as a project manager, but I also helped wire and program the simulator. In addition, our team got to see a lot of the facilities and equipment that helped humans reach the moon during the space race.

How old were you when you realized you were interested in space?

I’ve been into space for as long as I can remember. When I was little, my grandma and I would watch hours of “Star Trek” together. The first time I watched a shuttle launch was during fourth-grade science class. The moment I saw the rocket boosters roar to life I knew that I wanted to be an astronaut or, at the very least, work in the space industry.

It was during my freshman year of high school that NASA announced they were canceling the shuttle program. Like many people, I thought this meant the end of space exploration. I tried to “grow up” and find a “realistic” career. I went to college, graduated with a chemistry degree, worked in pharmaceuticals. I even got into medical school. No matter what I did, space was always on my mind. At 25 years old I decided to leave medicine for engineering and take one last shot at fulfilling my childhood dream.

How did you learn about the NASA internship?

In my first year at Clemson, I applied for a research fellowship from NASA’s National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program; Space Grant provides funding assistance and scholarships for students pursuing STEM careers. Aaron Shepard is pursuing a graduate degree in engineering at Clemson University. He hopes to pursue a career as a civil servant with NASA.I got the fellowship and spent that summer working in a lab at school on my satellite capture robot. The next year, I applied for multiple internships at NASA and was contacted (and selected!) by the coordinator for the Aeronautics Academy at Langley.

What has been your most meaningful accomplishment to date?

Just to get my foot in the door at NASA is a big accomplishment for me. I knew that I was taking a huge risk when I changed careers. Making that decision wasn’t easy at all. There were plenty of times I didn’t feel 100 percent confident about my choice, but I still got up every day and did what I needed to do at school and work. I never gave up on my dreams, and now they are starting to become my reality.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

Begin every day with a task completed. Whether it’s making my bed or finishing responses for a written interview, my days feel more productive when I start by accomplishing something small.

What advice do you have for students enrolled in career and technical education classes?

Don’t procrastinate! Success in education comes down to deadlines and learning time management. If you have a week to do an assignment, do small sections of it each day instead of everything the night before. Working this way is more efficient, and it helps you retain what you’ve learned.

Who has had the biggest influence on your life?

My dad wanted to be an aerospace engineer but he never pursued his dream because he didn’t think he was smart enough. He regretted not following his passion, and his story is what inspired me to follow mine.

What advice do you have for educators trying to inspire students to pursue STEM-related careers?

The media tends to typecast “STEM people” as smart and socially awkward white males, like Sheldon from “The Big Bang Theory.” It’s hard for individuals who don’t identify with those traits to see themselves in STEM careers. If teachers want to inspire more students to pursue science and engineering, I think it’s crucial that they share more stories in the classroom about the diverse people that make up the STEM fields.

Thank you for inspiring us, Aaron! To learn more about Aaron and his space journey, follow him on social media @spacecadetshep, email him or check out his TEDx Talk.

Seize the opportunity to take your own career out of this world!

ACTE and NASA HUNCH have teamed up to present the CTE Month 2019 and NASA HUNCH video challenge. This year’s theme, “Working Out of This World,” encourages students to produce short videos featuring careers, products or services that could be used in future space missions. The deadline to submit is Feb. 1.