In an effort to develop workforce enhancement in the space sciences, NASA recently awarded $99,421 to the New York Space Grant Consortium, which is led by Cornell University and includes 13 other New York institutions.
The grant will provide funding for a full year to encourage undergraduates to pursue studies and research in the field of space sciences.
Congress, Cornell, and the other members of the consortium have felt that the insufficient number of people interested in careers in space sciences is currently a pressing concern, and an important goal for the field, and the country, is to increase undergraduate involvement.
The four components of the grant include an undergraduate research program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., NASA related undergraduate research programs in New York state and a national program to develop student-built and operated satellite programs called the Cubesat/Student Satellite Project. The fourth component will use satellite imagery to characterize the landscape of the Mid-Atlantic region and the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Such grants are part of a recent program mandated by Congress, which allocates government funding for NASA to distribute to various space programs at institutions across the country.
The NASA Space Grant College and Fellowship program was first passed by Congress in 1988. Its newest addition, the program for aerospace workforce development, was instituted on Oct. 1, shortly after the grants were awarded. 45 state consortia were awarded grants ranging from $20,000 to $100,000.
“These awards will allow Space Grant to continue its work of attracting talented individuals who are qualified and trained to make significant contributions to the NASA mission,” said Frank Owens, director of the education division of NASA, in a recent news release.
Prof. Yervant Terzian, the David C. Duncan Professor in the Physical Sciences and the director of the New York Space Grant Consortium, submitted the proposal. Terzian was excited by the success of the proposal because the group was awarded the full amount it requested.
While the grant might seem like a significant amount of money, the country’s perpetual commitment to encouraging careers in space science will have more of an effect than a single monetary award, according to Terzian. Additionally, the award will have more of an impact if more money is continually awarded year after year. “One should put the whole thing in perspective,” Terzian said. “That is to say, the New York Space Grant Consortium has an annual budget of $800,000.”
Terzian said he thought that the award will likely become a permanent addition to the budget each year, which will have a more lasting effect on the consortium. “Various studies suggest that the future workforce in space sciences will not be sufficient for what this country needs,” Terzian said. “I feel that we have to provide better opportunities to young students to get involved in research and space programs.”
Julia Sohnen ’04, a mechanical engineering student, is currently involved in the Cubesat/Satellite project, which will receive additional funding from the grant. She did not recognize a lack of undergraduate interest in the field. “I’d think that half the MechE’s [mechanical engineers] are heading toward the Aeronautic/Aerospace track,” she said. However, she said she believed the grant will make significant improvements for students at Cornell.
“One of the big problems for science-related majors is finding internships,” she said. “Most companies aren’t hiring as much as they used to … it would be a good opportunity to get some actual work in the field … as well as connections and a resume booster, I’m sure.”
The other members of the consortium include Barnard College, City College of the City University of New York, Colgate University, Rensselaer Polytechinic Institute, Ithaca Sciencenter, SUNY Buffalo, SUNY Geneseo and Syracuse University.