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 Montpelier Magazine

Lauren Pederson and three other seniors earned $4,200 scholarships to study and conduct research in the 2002 Langley Aerospace Research Summer Scholars Program.

One Giant Leap

Seniors assist distinguished NASA researchers

Four JMU seniors joined an elite group of 125 college and graduate students selected from across the nation to participate in NASA's highly competitive Langley Aerospace Research Summer Scholars Program. Lauren Pederson, Jenna Bourne, Matthew Martin and Suzanne Lane spent last summer at the Langley Research Center immersed in technical lectures and mentored research.

Though NASA may seem like a giant leap from traditional academia, some students are already conducting research at JMU that is closely related to that at Langley. "I've been working in the Infrared Development and Thermal Testing Lab developing a system to test isogrid tubes," says Pederson. "Dr. [Joseph] Blandino and I received a grant from NASA to perform tests on these tubes, which are a type of support structure under consideration for use in future spacecraft."

The Langley Research Center's summer program is geared toward undergraduate students aspiring to degrees in aeronautical, mechanical or electrical engineering; materials, computer or atmospheric science; astrophysics or chemistry. Students attend lectures given by distinguished engineers and scientists and complete supervised research.

Pederson, an integrated science and technology major, says, "I helped my mentor at Langley research a thermal mass storage system that he was developing for possible use in reusable launch vehicles."

ISAT majors Bourne and Martin assisted in thermography testing on space shuttle wiring and analyzed the effects of clouds on a stratospheric aerosol gas experiment. Lane, a psychology major, analyzed data from a convective weather sources experiment and researched literature on pilots' weather knowledge.

NASA's educational outreach also includes a Faculty Fellowship program, which brings educators to its Center for Distance Learning to work in the distance learning and K-12 educational programs. JMU education professor Emma Savage-Davis completed a fellowship last summer.

"NASA makes impressive educational links to school systems through its TV programs, CDs, videos and printed educational packages," says Savage-Davis. "I looked at the way NASA puts its educational and activity packages together and how they serve teachers; and I put together a new biology learning package."

Starting with a needs assessment, Savage-Davis looked at teachers as customers. She researched how NASA's educational packages help the standards of learning for science teachers, conducted a Web survey of biology teachers and focused on how to break packages into individual lessons.

A member of the National Association of Teacher Educators, Savage-Davis worked to link the association to NASA, pitching ideas like K-12 teacher in-service training. Her fellowship project resulted in the "standard" that NASA will use in creating new distance-learning packages in all disciplines.


Story by Katie Templin ('03)