Middle school students launch interest in STEM education

Firefly Aerospace, a Cedar Park-based rocket company, hosted a junior rocket launching competition Saturday. Organizers with the event hope the challenge will encourage STEM education which they say will better prepare students for tomorrow's workforce. 

Neil Mauer attends Henry Middle School and got the opportunity to put his science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills to the test.

"If you don't know how things work than usually you don't know how to use them," said Neil. Neil was one of the dozen or more students who participated in FIRE-- a junior model rocketry competition.

The event was held at Firefly's test site in Briggs, located just 50 miles north of Austin. 

Students were given the opportunity to build a rocket, then launch it. "The moment before they go up it's like please work. I want to be the highest one there," said Gabriel Myers who attends Henry Middle School. 

School officials say they hope the hands on approach to learning will help spark interest in an under-represented field such as STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. "For you to see the subjects come to life here today you really see how stem comes to life in this field," said Gloria Gonzalez- Dholakia, Leander ISD Board of Trustee.

Gabriel says the objective for each rocket is to have the longest 'hang time' in the air from the time of launch.  And to see how high their rocket can go. "Fun for me is watching the rocket go up and feeling satisfied that you built it and now it's in the air." 

Organizers with Firefly hope the challenge will encourage students to want to learn STEM skills. "The best part of the day was seeing the kid's excitement when the kid's rockets took off," said Amos Behana. 

Which they say will better prepare students for tomorrow's workforce. "If you don't know how things work than usually you don't know how to use them.  "I hope to work at Space X or Firefly in the future some time,"  said Neil. 

According to Pew research, employment in STEM jobs have grown 79 percent since 1990, from $9.7 million to $17.3 million, outpacing overall U.S. job growth. 

By 2018, expert's project that $2.4 million STEM jobs will go unfilled.

Which is why firefly organizers say teaching STEM education is the way of the future.  

"So right now we're really shrinking our pipeline for students in the stem field to have something like this to get kids excited is very important not only for Firefly but for the U.S. in general,"  said Behana.



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