NASA and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore officially extended their partnership to continue to expand workforce, research and educational opportunities.
Dennis Andrucyk, director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and Heidi M. Anderson, UMES president, signed the agreement Tuesday, Sept. 7, that creates a pipeline of students pursuing science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers to Goddard facilities.
According to the NASA overview of the program, “academic studies, internships, on-site project engagement activities, and opportunities to support mission work alongside Wallops professionals” are part of the partnership.
Impact on students
Vicleese Sloan, a UMES senior, has already taken advantage of the programs offered by NASA. After an extensive military career that included seven deployments, she returned to complete her degree.
While still in the National Guard, the full-time student now studies aviation.
“Through on-the-job training, it helped me to be successful. I still knew I needed a college education after my military career. When I spoke to my professors, they were able to find me this partnership,” Sloan said.
Jewell Thompson, a UMES senior studying general engineering, has had six internships, starting in 2015, with NASA thanks to the partnership.
“This partnership is an amazing accomplishment, and today I saw like 15 mentors I’ve had from Wallops Flight Center,” Thompson said. “One of thing people tend to overlook are the connection you make. Just being able to talk to my mentors with engineering questions I have is a great resources for things like my senior design project.”
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The university also noted another milestone.
“We’re also celebrating the anniversary of the Morrill Land Grant Acts that added land grant status to a number of institutions,” Anderson said. “UMES is among those 19 institutions, and the purpose was the grant academic status and allow African Americans to receive a college education. That includes a STEM curriculum.”
Anderson added such a partnership is the key to real-world experience at nearby Wallops Flight Facility, which has already employed a number of interns from the university.
Such a distinction is that much more impactful given UMES is also included among historically Black colleges and universities.
Planning for the future
Andrucyk noted Goddard Space Flight Center includes six sites, with the largest located in Greenbelt, Maryland. The second largest is Wallops Flight Facility.
“It isn’t just about science and engineering, but cost and schedule commitments,” Andrucyk said. “When you think about Goddard and Wallops, it’s about every career and discipline to make sure our missions happen. Focusing on the future, we want to be experts in Earth science and planetary exploration.”
He added without a high-quality workforce, none of NASA’s goals are met.
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Andrucyk characterized the agreement as an important nod to the future of both parties. A key component is expanding opportunities in STEM industries in which minorities are traditionally underrepresented.
Dave Pierce, director of Wallops Flight Facility, said he considered the agreement with UMES as a longstanding interest in developing professionals in aerospace engineering in the Delmarva region.
“We see today as a renewal of this longstanding (relationship) between UMES and NASA to develop our Artemis generation,” Pierce said. “This is the next generation of aerospace technologists, technicians and airway science professionals that will carry our country forward for the next 20 years.”
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said NASA and bevy of upcoming projects will have considerable consideration in the upcoming federal budget.
Currently, there is $10 million allocated this year for Goddard and Wallops. Beyond the annual appropriations funds, the two have already had conversations about infrastructure needs at Wallops.
“This is a great opportunity for Maryland and the nation. We’ve learned that we’re only successful as a country when we truly tap all our potential. The reality is that we’ve seen students of color underrepresented in the STEM fields,” Van Hollen said.
Van Hollen concluded by highlighting the economic impact of the 500 jobs currently at Wallops Flight Facility.