The University Record, June 3, 2002

State students explore space and IT

By Martin May

High school students in various Michigan communities are getting a taste of university-level research in the scientific, engineering and technology fields through two U-M projects. The first, the U-M Mars Rover Project, introduced high school students to space and aerospace engineering as well as product design. The second, the Computer Systems Specialist Program, gave Flint area high school students hands-on training on computer hardware and networking from U-M–Flint instructors.

The two-year-old Mars Rover project is composed of 30 students, undergraduate and graduate, who are designing prototypes for a rover that could be used on Mars by astronauts. The faculty adviser is Peter Washabaugh, associate professor in aerospace engineering. The project team is close to finishing its first prototype—designed to carry three people and measuring approximately 17 by eight by 11 feet. Design has begun on a second vehicle. The students hope their research and design will be incorporated into any future rover that is sent to Mars.

As part of the project, three members of the team—engineering students Anna Paulson, William Green and Anton Vanderwyst—met with high school students from 38 schools throughout Michigan to discuss their project and their interest in sending a manned mission to Mars sometime in the next 10 to 20 years.

“The students had a lot of questions and some good suggestions,” said Anna Paulson, who also serves as the project manager. The good suggestions, Paulson said, included innovative recommendations for chair and fold-out workstation designs, as well as for malleable alloys for the rover’s wheels (inflated tires would be too brittle for the Mars environment).

Some high school students will volunteer with the project this summer by living in the rover for 2–3 days. Others have volunteered to compile data from experiments and assist in programming computers that control the global positioning system (GPS) units and video cameras on the rover’s exterior.

“A lot of the students didn’t realize that there are opportunities in the field of aerospace here in Michigan,” Paulson said. The cities Paulson and her colleagues visited include Lansing, Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Zeeland, Berrien Springs and Battle Creek.

The Computer Systems Specialist Program is part of the SBC Ameritech Learning Initiative, which teaches high school students skills in computer systems and information technology. At the end of the 10-week program, the students received certificates of accomplishment from U-M–Flint and SBC Ameritech.

“We are proud to be able to offer such high quality technical training to high school students throughout the greater Flint area,” said Vahid Lotfi, associate provost for U-M–Flint and professor of management. “We are especially grateful to SBC Ameritech for their generous financial support for this and other technology-based learning initiatives. This is an exciting program for the students, the instructors and the high schools.”

Another session of this program will be held this June for high school students throughout the greater Flint area.