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Happy feet: Toes are only truly happy when you let them out to play. The return of spring has brought out the footwear of freedom, seen here outside the TSC. / Photo by Josh Russell
Today's word on

Friday, April 8, 2005

"Once you have learned how to ask questions, you have learned how to learn."

--Neil Postman, journalism scholar (1931-2003)

USU JCOM NEWS NOTE: THE JCOM Department celebrates the Class of 2005 Friday with JDay, showcasing the best of student work in print and broadcast journalism, the Web, photo, and public relations. Followed by the annual JCOM Awards Banquet--student awards, 2005-06 scholarship winner, speaker Robert Kirby of the Salt Lake Tribune, all with fine dining. For information or reservations, contact the USU JCOM Department at or 435-797-3292.

How USU became known as Utah 'Space' University

By Kevin Nielsen

March 12, 2005 | "Shuttle's Next Payload: Your Homework" the sign says as student after student walks through the Taggart Student Center.

How did Utah State University in Cache Valley come to be one of the most prolific aerospace universities in the United States? It's all thanks to the government and two programs that it helped to start.

Through the Rocky Mountain Space Grant Consortium and the Space Dynamics Lab, Utah State has made a name for itself in the aerospace field.

It all started back in the 1800s with the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890. These provided lands and funding for states to start universities or colleges that would help the working class get an education without traveling to a major city where there was a university. Thanks to those acts Utah State was founded in 1888 and later opened branch campuses in every county of Utah.

Following the Land Grant colleges came the lesser known Sea Grant colleges then in 1988 Congress passed the National Space Grant Act. The act formed the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program, which by 1992 had 52 independent Space Grant consortia.

Utah State is one of the founding members of the Rocky Mountain Space Grant Consortium along with the University of Utah, the University of Denver and Thiokol. Currently the consortium has grown to include many other entities from the state of Utah including the Space Dynamics Lab.

The consortium exists to help bring students into fields that will help in the aerospace industry physics, math, chemistry, etc. Through outreach programs, scholarships and fellowships the consortium helps to steer students toward the aerospace profession.

"We use the money to make science more exciting and math more interesting," Outreach Director John Vanderford said.

Originally, money was given to recent high school graduates as part of a scholarship but Vanderford said it became apparent there were better ways to spend the money. So from then on, Vanderford said the consortium has been using money to focus primarily on fourth to seventh graders to help get them interested as they have the opportunity to focus on certain classes through high school.

Primarily the outreach program focuses on teachers because if you focus on getting teachers excited about those subjects then their students will be also, Vanderford said. Which is a big jump since some school districts have 25:1 student-teacher ratios.

Besides giving workshops to students there are several programs that help keep children interested in the core aerospace subjects.

One good example is Project Starshine. A sphere with mirrors all over it was sent into orbit while schools all over the country were given mirrors so when the satellite passed over they would be able to tell.

"It was a gimmick to get people excited," Vanderford said.

Other activities the consortium participates in are the Pathway to Mars program, the Science Olympiad, science fairs and they can give over 20 different outreach programs.

All this just to get people into the aerospace fields, once the students get to college they can receive scholarships or fellowships. Through grant money from National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the department a fellowship is given to a graduate student.

Ricky Fielding, the current recipient of the consortium's fellowship, will receive his masters in electrical engineering this spring.

"The space grant is designed so there are more engineers entering the space arena," Fielding said. "It provides hard-to-get experience."

You could call the consortium the minor league for the Space Dynamics Lab (SDL). They help provide the engineers and scientists that actually do the work.

SDL was formed in 1982 when the Upper Air Research Laboratory and the Electro-Dynamics Laboratory combined.

"Our purpose is to make stuff the government needs," SDL Deputy Director Harry Ames said. "In order to execute programs the government wants, like space exploration or defense."

SDL's Deputy Director Harry Ames compares it to Boeing or any other aerospace company. Ames said SDL usually has around 20 bids out on certain contracts at anytime. SDL's bids usually come in between 50 and 15 percent lower than the other companies vying for the contracts, Ames said.

Even with the connection to the business world it helps to have an arm in the university cookie jar too. SDL is one of 11 university affiliated research centers in the nation which means they have a special contract with the Department of Defense dealing with certain core proficiencies where no public bids need to be sought, Ames said. This doesn't mean the Department of Defense can't ask for other bids but they always have the option to give the contract to SDL.

At SDL there are between 80 and 100 students working at anytime on projects, which is about 25 percent of the workforce. Some are undergraduates but the majority are graduate students.

While 25 percent of the workforce are students, half of the employees received at least one of their degrees from Utah State, Ames said. This helps to keep the lab stocked with people since SDL doesn't offer as many perks as other aerospace companies, Ames said. Stock options and company cars aren't viable options that SDL can give their employees, yet they are still able to get high quality employees.

Thanks to the space program that has grown here in Cache Valley more than $30 million are put into the valley economy each year by SDL alone. SDL is also an asset to the university as it consistently makes money and is never an item on the state's budget.


Copyright 1997-2005 Utah State University Department of Journalism & Communication, Logan UT 84322, (435) 797-1000
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