National Spotlight Shines on ECC Balloon Team
Edgecombe Community College was the only community college in the nation to participate in a celebration of Space Grant’s 30th anniversary in Washington, DC.
Held February 25, instructors Rebecca Stamilio-Ehret and Trey Cherry attended along with four students: Emily Brake, Emilee Moore, Garrett Parker, and Harry Snell. ECC President Dr. Greg McLeod also was present.
ECC’s display highlighted the College’s success with the High Altitude Balloon Team Competition and undergraduate research program and the successes balloon team members have attained through SkillsUSA.
In 2014, the NC Space Grant launched the balloon competition for community colleges. Teams incorporate the NASA design cycle to design, build, test, and fly a scientific experiment onboard a high altitude balloon payload. ECC fielded its first team in the 2015-16 academic year.
All four of the students used their findings on balloon team projects to compete in SkillsUSA contests, resulting in national awards for each of the students.
In May 2018, Emily Brake received two college transfer degrees at ECC, an associate in arts and associate in science. She is studying biological and agricultural engineering technology and environmental science at NC State University.
Garrett Parker earned an associate in science degree at ECC in May 2019, and he is pursuing a degree in welding at Johnston Community College.
Emilee Moore and Harry Snell attend the Edgecombe Early College High School. Moore is a senior, and Snell is a super senior.
Two groups/teams per Space Grant consortium were asked to submit proposals to present at the anniversary event. Each state, DC, and Puerto Rico have a Space Grant Consortium, for a total of 52. From these, 24 groups were selected, including ECC.
North Carolina and Montana were the only states that sent two teams; Winston-Salem State University was the other NC team. Edgecombe Community College was the only community college invited. NC Space Grant provided funding to pay for travel and display expenses.
The celebration was held in the Rayburn House Office Building, where offices of the US House of Representatives are located. “It was exciting to be able to showcase our students’ talents and hard work with our friends at NC Space Grant, NASA, other schools from around the country, and leaders in our nation’s capital,” notes Dr. McLeod.
“We had a prime spot in the Rayburn House, and everyone had a chance to see Edgecombe Community College. While that was great for the College, our students and faculty certainly deserved the spotlight.”
Stamilio-Ehret, instructor of physics and industrial technologies and one of the High Altitude Balloon Team leaders, says students are transformed by their experiences on the team. “I see them grow as individuals and become more interested and focused on a path. In addition to the science, they learn how to meet project deadlines, work with each other, and lead each other.”
Dr. McLeod agrees, “Being a member of our balloon team stretches students in ways that will benefit them regardless of the career field they choose by strengthening their leadership, communication, and critical thinking skills, among others.”
Harry Snell, who plans to study computer programming at NC State University, says he knew what he wanted to do professionally, but “being on the balloon team gave me an opportunity to work on a college-level research project and helped me come out of my shell and become more outgoing. Also, participating in state and national SkillsUSA competitions were great career experiences.”
Emilee Moore, who is in her fourth year on the balloon team, says she was originally focused on the soft sciences but credits balloon team projects with expanding her academic interests to include STEM fields. “I’ve learned about soldering and electronics, and I will earn an ECC electrical certificate next year.”
Moore plans to major in social work and minor in a STEM field at NC State University. “I forget how unusual it is for high school students to work on college projects,” she adds. “My friends say, ‘Wait, you’re sending what into space?!”
Snell, who has been on the balloon team for three years, agrees. “Going to DC put into perspective just how how cool this project really is.”