Lift Off

Kamili Jackson ’97, M.S. ’99, mechanical engineering, has witnessed one NASA space launch in person during her nine years at ths14-alumprofile-jacksone agency: the Hubble Servicing Mission 4 in 2009.

Jackson was a contracted materials engineer at NASA for that mission, helping the team make decisions on what metals, plastics and ceramics should be used for the craft. And as she watched her hard work blast off and enter orbit, she was filled with satisfaction.

That same year, Jackson co-founded a project that helps high school students take off into careers in engineering – the Future Innovative Rising Engineers (FIRE), National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), Junior Chapter in Greenbelt.

“We wanted to have a consistent impact on a set of kids,” says Jackson. The FIRE students come from all over Maryland and even Virginia, and they often stay on the team until they graduate from high school and find a college or university. (In 2013, the program began accepting middle school students as well.)

The competition and mentoring in the program is intense. Professional engineers and parents coach participating students through four national competitions in robotics, model rocketry and math. They also teach them coding, software and building techniques, and also facilitate discussions throughout the process. The goal is for the students to design and build their own robots and rockets.

“We get them to learn by doing,” says Jackson. “We want them to take ownership of what they’re learning.” Continue reading Lift Off