April 25, 2019 | Lee Cannon

By Katelyn Vause and NC Space Grant team

On April 4 and 5, North Carolina Space Grant hosted its inaugural NC SPACE Symposium on the North Carolina State University campus in Raleigh. Turnout far exceeded expectation, with nearly 200 guests and speakers attending, making this first symposium a big success. 

The 2019 NC SPACE Symposium drew over 130 undergraduate, graduate and even a few high school students, as well as seasoned industry professionals, government representatives, STEM faculty and young aerospace and aviation professionals. Since the symposium was designed particularly for students, the agenda provided ample opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students alike to showcase their research in two poster presentation sessions and to serve as panelists alongside aerospace professionals from industry and government. Multiple breaks and meals provided time to network with faculty and professionals and access the collected wisdom in the room, as the students prepare to embark on STEM careers. Many of the attending students had received NC Space Grant support for their research or team-competition activities; however, many also were new to NC Space Grant.

One attendee said, “I met a lot of peers with the same goals and aspirations, making it quite worthwhile. The different companies offered up many different, unique future prospects, career-wise.”

The symposium kicked off with a reception Thursday evening, where students and professionals networked with others from the Triangle area and those arriving from all corners of the state. NC Space Grant is a state-wide program that provides support to students, faculty and teams for education and public outreach events from the mountains to the sea.

Friday morning, Dr. Susan White, director of NC Space Grant, opened Friday’s main event and welcomed guests and presenters in the packed hall before announcing a surprise presenter.. NC Space Grant was proud to share a recorded message from NASA Astronaut Candidate and NC Space Grant scholar, Zena Cardman, welcoming all to the inaugural symposium and speaking about the impact of her NC Space Grant experience on her current career path.

Cardman is part of the NASA Astronaut Candidate Class of 2013 and a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she completed research projects at both the undergraduate and graduate levels with NC Space Grant support. She is currently undergoing astronaut training and will be assigned to NASA missions within the next few years. In her welcome message, Cardman encouraged the assembled students and young professionals to continue striving toward their goals and make use of the opportunities available to them.

Susan White then handed the stage over to Christopher Chung, CEO of Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC), for a plenary talk on the state of the aerospace industry in North Carolina. Chung shared about the wealth of opportunities for those aspiring to work in the field in North Carolina, where dozens of aerospace- and aviation-related companies are headquartered or have significant presence. He related that North Carolina’s aerospace industry is the second fastest-growing in the nation, making career opportunities plentiful for students and young professionals like those in the symposium hall. He also pointed out that the North Carolina market is ripe for starting up new aerospace and aviation companies, for those who aspire to build their own new businesses.

The day’s agenda was divided into four sessions, in which guest speakers discussed their research or their organization’s activities and answered questions. The sessions centered on space science, space technology, future flight and careers in aerospace and aviation. Each of the first three sessions included professionals from industry, government and academia, as well as an NC Space Grant student scholar. The final session included representatives from eight of the area’s many aerospace and aviation corporations and organizations.

Organizations represented on the panels included Destination SPACE, Global Science & Technology, Inc. (GST), Hypersizer, LORD Corporation, GE Aviation, Crown Consulting, the NC Public Safety Drone Academy, NASA Langley Research Center (NASA LaRC), the N.C. Department of Transportation Division of Aviation, PrecisionHawk, Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory, Duke University, Durham Technical Community College, NC State University, UNC-Chapel Hill and Winston Salem State University. Learn more about the panelists here.

Said one attendee, “I really liked the setup of the panels. It was a good mix of students, college and industry on the panel in each session.” One such panelist was Lindsay Sullivan, a Ph.D. student and 2018-19 NC Space Grant Graduate Research Fellow, who discussed the effects of long duration space flight on the bones of mice. Her presentation captured the imagination of the audience and prompted robust discussion during the question-and-answer session.

Another attendee commented, “The networking session at the end of the symposium was outstanding with a great variety of potential employers.” One industry partner shared he has already lined up multiple interviews for internships with students he spoke to during the career networking session.

Morning and afternoon poster sessions allowed students the opportunity to explain their research to peers, faculty and industry members, while honing their presentation skills. Individual students presented on topics ranging from remote sensing and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) applications in environmental research to biological research pertinent to astronaut health. Other topics included machine learning, ways to visualize spacecraft missions using software, using NASA technology to increase the nutritional value of meat and many, many more. Visit the SPACE Symposium page to see abstracts of all the posters presented.

Eleven STEM-competition teams also presented rovers, underwater drones, mining machines, high-altitude balloon payloads and other devices built for their competitions. NC Space Grant is currently supporting 10 of those 11 teams across the state, who spent the 2018-19 academic year laboring on their entries for competitions this spring. Read about those teams in our previous post here. NC Space Grant has a history of supporting motivated and high-performing teams at the community college and university level, many of which win and place in national and international competitions.

“The poster session was well organized and had a very diverse array of subjects and work,” an attendee commented.

Special guest Gerald D. Griffin, former director of the NASA Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, delivered the keynote during the symposium luncheon. Griffin held many positions in both industry and government programs during his career, including serving as a flight director during NASA’s Apollo Program. In his keynote speech, he gave the crowd a glimpse of what it was like to be a young, optimistic flight director on the Apollo 11 mission, the first lunar landing, and for the Apollo 13 mission, when he and his team were suddenly thrust into a crisis and had to work quickly to save the astronauts’ lives.

Griffin also spoke about technological advances in space flight since the Apollo missions and the new partnerships between NASA and the burgeoning commercial space industry players, who use NASA technology and know-how to help advance the space program in cooperation with NASA.

One student attendee summed up the symposium experience saying, “It was so inspiring to be there and the event made me really excited about North Carolina, space and what’s going to come from all us students in the future!”

NC Space Grant thanks the following sponsors for their generous contributions, which made the inaugural symposium possible: LORD Corporation, Crown Consulting, Inc., Airavat Aviation Solutions and HyperSizer. Thanks also to these groups, whose efforts helped make the symposium a success: NASA LaRC, ISS U.S. National Lab and the N.C. Department of Transportation Division of Aviation.

Follow NC Space Grant on Facebook for a forthcoming photo gallery of scenes from the inaugural NC SPACE Symposium.

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