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Innovation comes alive at JMU because our culture allows unique combinations of academic programs that foster collaboration and results. Learning truly comes alive in the JMU classroom. Here’s a shining example of innovation that involves students being allowed to put their passion to the test.


Abby Maltese

Class of 2022

Major: Engineering

Minors: Mathematics; Honors Interdisciplinary Studies

Hometown: Ashburn, Virginia

High School: Briar Woods High

Highlights: JMU Society of Women Engineers vice president; JMU women’s soccer; loves yoga and outer space; high school engineering team won a Higher Orbits Go for the Launch Competition with a super cool outcome; high school engineering team also won a Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers Boat Design Competition that saw their design get built and raced

“I think the people here make it everything.”

Build a rocket.

Launch it a mile in the air.

When it comes to innovation, Abby Maltese (’22) and her friends are not playing around.

For their capstone project—a two-year-long undertaking that is a key component of JMU’s innovative engineering program—Maltese and her eight teammates are doing all the things necessary to compete in a NASA Student Launch Competition.

“We’re building a high-powered nine- to 10-foot-long rocket with lots of different requirements—different altitude requirements, payload requirements, STEM engagement requirements,” Maltese says.

So, exactly how much will these JMU undergrads have to do with getting this project off the ground?

“We’re going to be fabricating the rocket ourselves and testing it and doing all the analysis,” she says. “It’s very immersive and hands-on, I would say.”

Maltese has had her eye on outer space for awhile, having taking part in the Higher Orbit Go For Launch competition as a high schooler at Briar Woods High in Ashburn, Virginia. “With that one, we did well enough in the competition that we ended up getting to send our experiment into space, so that was really cool,” she says.

As with so many JMU academic disciplines, the engineering program is “always looking for new projects to take on,” Maltese says, adding that Dr. Keith Holland “was so willing to work with us” to create and submit a capstone proposal for the college-level student launch competition.

As Maltese sees it, JMU is a definite winner if innovation is your thing.

“We proposed this project and the engineering department said yes, and now we’re getting the same education that an aerospace engineering student somewhere else would, just a little more hands-on,” she says. “And here, you have to be driven to do it—which I think employers like to see because it’s not really just handed to you in a curriculum. You have to go out and find it and put the hard work in to learn it.”

Added the rising senior, “We have a lot of work left to do. And I would say that we are definitely excited about it.”

For Maltese and crew, JMU is holding the door open.

Challenges are being met. Lessons are being learned. Innovation is coming to life.

And soon, a rocket will be flying.

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