TE inspires young technicians and engineers to realize their career aspirations.

Rocketing to Success with STEM

TE is all about making connections and one of the most important connections TE makes is helping bridge aspiring young technicians and engineers with the realization of their interests and career aspirations. TE does this through investments in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

For many would-be scientists and engineers, there is no greater draw than space or the power to reach it – rocket propulsion. For engineering minds the opportunity to overcome earth’s gravity holds a special aura. Completing the challenge of overcoming earth’s gravity and sending a projectile thousands of feet into the atmosphere is the ultimate quest for many high school and college students. The NASA Student Launch Competition provides the competitive forum for many to achieve this goal. For this special competition, TE employees have enthusiastically assisted local high schools with technological guidance, parts donations, and supportive mentoring.  

Inspiring student-engineers begins with helping the kids who lack confidence in their skills gain the ability to recognize their interests and talents.
Student-Engineers from Spring Grove High School (York, PA, USA)
Student-Engineers from Spring Grove High School (York, PA, USA)
Student-Engineers from Spring Grove High School (York, PA, USA)
Student-Engineers from Spring Grove High School (York, PA, USA)

In the NASA Student Launch Initiative (SLI), the different perspectives from different genders, cultures and backgrounds help teams tackle the challenge of designing, building, testing, and launching a rocket. Success in the competition relies on collaboration. The students are learning at an early age that teamwork is essential to innovation. TE mentors – in the Harrisburg, PA (USA) area – help students see the direct connection between diversity of thought and innovation. Two of the teams that TE helps are from Spring Grove High School (York, PA, USA) – the alma mater of TE mentor Geoff Zech, senior director of business development, TE Transportation Solutions. Geoff said, “We give presentations a few times a year to students through the Junior Achievement (JA) program. Last year, at the JA STEM Summit, Brian Hastings, a teacher at Spring Grove and leader of the two teams, approached us and asked us to use our 3D printers so they could print a critical larger part of the rocket all in one piece. ” That TE-donated piece made a difference in the team’s efforts.

Tail Fin in process - Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM).
Tail fin in the fused deposition modeling (FDM) machine.
TE's Bob Zubrickie in front of a TE FDM machine.
TE's Bob Zubrickie with TE's FDM machine.
The completed tail fin.
The completed tail fin, ready for assembly.
Spring Grove students hold the rocket, which TE helped develop.
Spring Grove students hold the rocket, which TE helped develop.

All NASA SLI rockets are required to not only function, but also have a functional, real-life, on-board experiment, just like Space Shuttle and other US rocket launches. 

For the 2014 competition, the challenge was to develop a rocket that could carry a functional payload to an altitude of exactly one mile (5,280 feet). TE supported the students by reviewing their work and supplying a fused deposition model 3D printed fin bracket made from ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) plastic. The product was designed by the students and created by TE’s rapid prototype group – based near Harrisburg, PA – from a 3D model submitted by the team. The cost was partially funded through the TE Connectivity Foundation. The 2015 Spring Grove team won the NASA Launch altitude challenge and were excited that all their hard work paid off. The school looks forward to seeing the aspirations of future teams and they know the support and guidance of TE will be instrumental.

Leading STEM programs that achieve outstanding results requires more than simply working with academic achievers. Inspiring student-engineers begins with helping the kids who lack confidence in their skills gain the ability to recognize their interests and talents. Keith Murr, principal engineer and engineering project manager in TE’s Corporate Engineering Group, explains: “Grades in high school do not always give a clear picture of a student’s ability to succeed. Too often, students with low grades assume they cannot achieve; as a result, they choose not to bother dreaming about what they would like to accomplish.” The solution is mentorship, such as the programs like the NASA launch competition where TE provides support. Mentors can help challenge students in ways that help students overcome personal doubt while instilling in them an affirmation of the talents they do possess. For Murr, the shift from doubt to confidence begins when sees who they can become, regardless of where they are now. He often begins a presentation to STEM students by showing them his ninth grade report card, which had failing grades. “I have a direct appreciation for where these kids are right now – struggling to finds interests, lacking a mission and achievable goals. When I was an Industrial Arts/Tech Ed student, I found a series of classes where I felt comfortable, found success and could sense this was naturally where I belonged. It was, a life-altering experience.”

Wyatt Nace, former Spring Grove High School student, is now studying Aerospace Engineering at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.

Wyatt Nace, former Spring Grove High School student, is now studying Aerospace Engineering at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. While at Spring Grove, Wyatt was a member of the NASA Student Launch Initiative (SLI) team for three years and a captain during his senior year.

As a mentor, Murr encourages student-engineers to find their personal mission and not allow anything to detract from their goals. “It is easy for students to feel discouraged,” Murr explains. “For example, if they are not on an advanced placement (AP) or college prep (CP) track, it is difficult to feel continuously challenged and find the encouragement to succeed. Mentors can help set for the expectation of going to college. For me, the path from failing ninth grade to representing TE at Cisco Systems and Intel on the Development Engineering level began with believing in the mission I created for myself. When I tell this to students, I can see the spark in their eye, and I can see that they are thinking ‘if he can do it, I can do it too.’”

The goal of the competition and the mentoring is not to create rocket scientists in particular. Through the many hours of hard work and the different phases and requirements of the competition, students gain valuable experience with public speaking, 3D CAD modeling, technical writing, project planning, and teamwork. In 2015, Spring Grove's SLI program received an Exemplary Program award from Shippensburg University (PA, USA), while the Spring Grove team was featured in Product Design and Development Magazine. Three seniors from last season’s winning team are now pursuing STEM-based college educations and careers. "For the past 3 years, I have had team members from SLI go to Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and Penn State University for aerospace engineering," explains Spring Grove's Brian Hastings. "Other graduates have gone into structural, electrical, chemical, nuclear, and civil engineering as well as medicine at some of the most prestigious universities in the country." These students credit the influence of their Spring Grove rocket team experience. That is a fantastic win and why mentorship is so rewarding.

Student-Engineers from Spring Grove High School (York, PA, USA)

The aspiring engineers participating in the 2015/2016 Junior Achievement (JA) program at Spring Grove High School (York, PA, USA).