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NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe visits Syracuse University to learn more about how SU, Cornell are training tomorrow’s aerospace engineers
NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe visits Syracuse University to learn more about how SU, Cornell are training tomorrow’s aerospace engineersMay 05, 2004Kelly Homan Rodoskikahoman@syr.edu
During the recent academic year, senior engineering students from Syracuse University and Cornell University spent dozens of hours together, working on design challenges inherent to current and next-generation space vehicles. They did so without ever leaving their respective campuses.
The students’ unique collaboration is possible due to the Advanced Interactive Discovery Environment for Engineering Education (AIDE) project at Syracuse and Cornell. Through the project, a virtual, Web-based environment has been developed that gives the students critical engineering design experience and teaches them how to work in geographically distributed groups, a common situation in today’s aerospace industry.
“Through the AIDE project, we have been able to provide an environment in which students can learn while working on relevant, technically challenging problems,” says Barry D. Davidson, professor of aerospace engineering in SU’s L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science and principal investigator on the project. “The experience not only prepares students to excel in the workplace, but to become the leaders and innovators of tomorrow.”
NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe visited SU on May 4 to view some of the students’ final projects. NASA has provided nearly $4 million in funding(secured by U.S. Rep. James T. Walsh) since SU’s and Cornell’s participation began in January 2001. Additional funding has come from New York State ($500,000) and AT&T ($300,000).
“NASA is encouraged that students participating in the AIDE project are simulating the challenges and activities that aerospace engineers face on a daily basis,” says O’Keefe. “AIDE is teaching students how to problem-solve and work through communication boundaries, enabling our agency to recruit and maintain a well-educated and superior work force and fulfill the new vision for space exploration.”
According to Walsh, “The AIDE program offers a unique opportunity to current undergraduate engineering students to work on NASA-related research projects, providing them with hands-on experience and discipline-appropriate knowledge.” He adds, “This is yet another example of federal investment in Upstate New York universities, which train the best and the brightest of our nation’s next generation of scientists and researchers. There are few programs like it anywhere in the country.”
This year, 16 SU students and 16 Cornell students were enrolled in the senior design course that is part of the AIDE project. In teams of six (three members from each university per team), they used tools of the AIDE environment, such as team workspaces, message boards and multi-point audio and video, to collaborate on their designs.
Davidson points out that students are not actually creating designs that will be used in future space vehicles; rather through these exercises they are learning the skills and processes that they can employ in future careers as aerospace engineers. Lessons learned from previous space flights, such as the foam strike that led to the catastrophic failure of the Space Shuttle Columbia, were incorporated into the students’ design challenges.
“This course provides a unique educational experience, where graduating engineers are trained in those key technologies used by NASA,” Davidson says.
Ben Nesmith, a senior aerospace engineering major, says the course sharpened his communication skills, boosted his ability to work effectively in a group environment, and gave him experience in various technical applications that he will apply in his job as a structural engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center, which he begins in June.
“The collaborative facet of this course has been a very unique experience,” says Nesmith. “It is clear that as an engineer in the 21st century, I will have to be able to work effectively with peers located all around the world. My experience working with the Cornell students has shown me that with the right technology and a little patience, it can be just as effective as if we were working in the same room, side by side.”