FAU Lands NASA Grant to Inspire Local High School Students in STEM

NASA, Grants, Awards, STEM, High School, High School Students, Engineering, Computer Science

(Photo by Alex Dolce)

By gisele galoustian | 9/13/2022

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science have received a three-year $478,699 grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for a project titled, “MAA Experiential Learning Opportunities for South Florida Underserved High School Students.”

FAU was one of only eight institutions in the nation to be awarded NASA’s Minority University Research and Education (MUREP) award for the MUREP Aerospace Academy (MAA). Through cooperative agreement awards, MAA funding affords minority-serving institutions the opportunity to develop exciting new avenues to inspire local high school students in the STEM (science-technology-engineering-mathematics) fields.

Administered through NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement, MUREP supports the training and development of students and faculty at minority-serving institutions in STEM fields. MUREP awards are established to strengthen and develop these institutions’ research capacity and infrastructure in areas of strategic importance and value to NASA’s mission and national priorities.

With this NASA grant, FAU is partnering with Florida Memorial University to offer students from Boyd Anderson High School in Broward County and Lake Worth Community High School in Palm Beach County, which serve predominantly black and Hispanic student populations, experiential learning opportunities, field trips, study tours, engagement with STEM professionals, and near-peer mentoring. NASA themes will be explored, including earth observations and aeronautics.

“We are incredibly excited that Florida Atlantic University was selected by NASA as one of only eight recipients in the United States to receive their Minority University Research and Education award,” said Stella Batalama, Ph.D., dean, FAU College of Engineering and Computer Science. “We remain committed in our mission to produce top-notch students and graduates in the STEM fields. This NASA grant will enable professors Arockiasamy and Nagarajan to provide exceptional training and research opportunities for underrepresented high school students in collaboration with outstanding partner institutions.”

The project is spearheaded by Madasamy Arockiasamy, Ph.D., principal investigator, a professor, and director, Center for Infrastructure and Constructed Facilities, in FAU’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatics Engineering. His research expertise includes non-contact infrastructure condition monitoring, ocean, wind and wave energy utilization, offshore/coastal structures, advanced high strength composites, and sustainability and climate change impact on infrastructure.

“Data show that less than 3 percent of minority students nationwide have degrees in engineering or are employed in this field,” said Arockiasamy. “We are very grateful for receiving this NASA grant, which will help aspiring engineers to explore space and aeronautics, and importantly, to help us increase the number of America’s minority students entering into STEM-related programs and professions.”

Sudhagar Nagarajan, Ph.D., associate chair and an associate professor, FAU’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatics Engineering, is serving as co-principal investigator of the project. His research expertise includes non-contact infrastructure modeling, terrestrial, aerial and space borne laser scanning, multi-sensor based registration and change detection, and drones for mapping. 

“Experiential learning is an essential part of high school and higher education at all levels. Internships, field experiences and cooperative learning all help to prepare students for a successful transition into the workforce,” said Nagarajan.

Arockiasamy and Nagarajan plan to partner with various organizations throughout Florida for the MAA Experiential Learning Opportunities for South Florida Underserved High Students, including the South Florida Water Management District, Lockheed Martin, Aerojet Rocketdyne, NASA Centers – Kennedy Space Center, Glenn Research Center, Ames Research Center, Florida Space Grant Consortium, and the Gangals Nonprofit Organization.