NFCC awarded gold in NASA Engineering Competition: NFCC Young Engineers Team places first among Florida Community Colleges

If we’ve learned anything from Neil Armstrong’s words “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” It is that the greatest of achievements can be accomplished with even the smallest step. The same is especially true at NFCC, a college that prides itself on being a small college with big possibilities. The first step for a group of NFCC science students came about recently when NFCC Physics instructor Dr. Guenter Maresch presented his Young Engineers students with the opportunity to compete in the NASA Engineering Challenge at Cape Canaveral this past summer. The NASA Engineering Challenge, a competitive “Olympic style” event held in Cape Canaveral Florida, is sponsored by the NASA Florida Space Grant Consortium to provide opportunities to students of selected community colleges to become involved in the STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) field. Ten students are selected from the competing colleges and then split out into two teams of five to compete in the three-day event. Each student is also given a $5,000 stipend for competing. This was an outstanding opportunity, perfect for the ten students selected to represent NFCC. Jacob Bunting, a computer-engineering student who already possessed a deep love and understanding for the subject, was eager to participate in the project and learn more about engineering. “I have always had a passion for the STEM field,” said Bunting.

“My father and I have been building small robots and launching model rockets since I was a little kid. I have always been really good at math, so when I enrolled at NFCC I started taking classes pertaining to my planned major, engineering.” Under the guidance of their NFCC advisor, selected students met on a weekly basis during the spring semester to construct, test, gather data and perfect their entries for the main event in June. “Preparing for the competition involved a lot of practice,” said Nicholas Sadler, an NFCC student studying mechanical engineering. “We met every Friday for about four months.” The road to victory would be an exciting, but challenging one for these students. One that would involve “many broken rocket pieces [which was overcame by the team’s improvisation as well as super glue]” said NFCC physics student Jason Touchton. The culmination of all of their hard work came on June 11 when all ten students along with their dedicated instructor and advisor Dr. Maresch, traveled from Madison to Cape Canaveral to compete in the main event. The competition itself consisted of three challenges: a robotic vehicle challenge, a hydro powered rocket challenge and a high balloon altitude experiment challenge.

“Our [final] challenge was the weather balloon challenge,” said Kirsten Green, a wife and mother pursuing a degree in chemical engineering. “During this, we all worked together as a single team instead of two separate teams. We would fill a high altitude balloon with helium and let it float to 100,000 ft. before bursting and returning our small Styrofoam payload to Earth’s surface to be retrieved. To prepare for the challenge, we had to come up with a written proposal of what our data would be used for and then put together our payload to be sent to the edge of the atmosphere.” When it was announced that NFCC had won first place and would take home the gold, the entire team was in awe. “I was so excited! The first thing I did was text my husband. I was so proud of myself and my team!” said Green. They had worked hard for months and all of their tremendous effort had paid off with not only a first place win, but an extraordinary experience as well. “It was an amazing experience that allowed us to learn how to work as a team and overcome obstacles in each area.” Said NFCC student Rene Perez, “We all enjoyed spending the time with those running the competition and learning how NASA works. It was a thrilling week as we competed and after hard work, winning the competition. This competition has so far been the best educational experience yet and I’m so grateful that NFCC gave us this chance.” “I am extremely proud of each and every student that competed,” said NFCC Physics Instructor Dr. Guenter Maresch. “They displayed extraordinary teamwork and represented NFCC in an outstanding way.” NFCC also shares Dr. Maresch’s pride and congratulations for his students and their success.

1. Photo Submitted. NFCC NASA Engineering Competition Team came home with the gold. In the front row, from left to right, are: Zachary Smith, Rene Perez and Nicholas Sadler. In the middle row, from left to right, are: Hunter Armstrong, Kristen Green, Thuy Tran, Taylor Linton and Jason Touchton. In the back row, from left to right, are: Dr. Guenter Maresch, Keith Oslowski, Justin Roell and Jacob Bunting.

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