Our Voice: Thankful for mentors and student opportunities

Sometimes students go beyond their classroom assignments and take on amazingly complex academic challenges. It is inspiring to see them succeed and today we are thankful for the opportunity presented to students, as well as the mentors who help.

Kamiakin STEM

A team of Kamiakin High School students spent months designing a small unmanned flying drone and recently placed second in the national competition of the Real World Design Challenge in Washington, D.C.

This is the sixth year in a row a team from Kamiakin has won the state contest and earned the right to compete at the national level where more than 40 states were represented. The four students are Paul Pierson, Derek Benham, Oumar Sidibe and Yaye Sidibe. Their advisor is Richard Pierson, radiation protection programs manager at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

One of the reasons for such an amazing Kamiakin streak in the contest, however, is because of the careful guidance of former advisor Terrance Casey, who acted as a mentor to the group this year. Casey is a Tri-City architect and advised the first group of students in 2008 and has continued to encourage students in the program ever since. Other mentors to this year’s team are Joe Luey, a past student from a former design team; Jerry Tagestad, a PNNL senior remote sensing analyst and Clarence Burns, an aerospace engineer.

The Real World Design Challenge is part of a public-private partnership that encourages students to go into STEM careers, and it is a tough contest. The task is daunting, as the students often have to figure out professional engineering systems in order to design their project, as well as business and marketing plans.

These kinds of contests push kids in a way that academic testing can’t. We’re glad that kids who like this extra challenge have an outlet and that there are adults willing to volunteer their time to help them.

Mission to mars

Two Columbia Basin College students also have pushed themselves academically and are now on their way to NASA.

Lesly Ibarra and Crystal Poorman are two of 40 community college students selected nationally to participate later this month in the final portion of the National Community College Aerospace Scholars Program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. The young women have been tutors in the Math Engineering Science Achievement, or MESA program at CBC, which encourages women and minorities to pursue careers in science, engineering and math.

They heard about the NASA scholars program from Gabriela Whitemarsh, MESA director at CBC, and decided to sign up for the semester-long program, which required extra online courses and learning about Mars exploration, including designing rovers. Students with the best scores were selected to visit the flight center.

These additional opportunities offer students a unique experience that cannot be duplicated in the classroom.

If we want students to get excited about STEM careers, programs like the one offered by NASA are a good way to do it.