A-B Tech students earn coveted spots in NASA’s Aerospace Scholars program

Press Release

From Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College:

A-B Tech Community College students Kris Ridenour and Mike Blackwater were two of the 40 students in the United States chosen by NASA to participate as Aerospace Scholars at the Marshall Space Flight Center February 26-28.

Community and junior college students from across the nation apply to be part of the National Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) project. Participants apply what they have learned during the year to work with NASA engineers.

“The NASA NCAS engineering contest was the most challenging fun we have ever experienced. The three-day contest, coupled with the three interactive engineering lab tours, was very educational and will most likely end up being a career changing experience,” said Blackwater.

They competed for a spot in Huntsville through an application process and scores from online lessons, where they created plans for their own Mars mission including a 3D rover design.

Ridenour and Blackwater were encouraged to apply for the program by instructors Tammy Sullivan, Math Chair and Jim Sullivan, Civil Engineering and Geomatics Technology Chair. “I wouldn’t have tried to do it if it weren’t for her (Tammy’s) encouragement,” Ridenour said.

Ridenour is studying computer engineering after 10 years in the Army where he served as a scout. “I decided to come to A-B Tech to do something more out of life,” he said.

“Kris is extremely bright, dedicated and loves to learn.  He is such a wonderful addition to our class with his real-world knowledge and experiences.  For example, when we were studying Laws of Sines and Cosines, he shared with the class how this is used in the Army during different missions and in-field training,” Tammy Sullivan said.

Blackwater was in the rental real estate field and wanted a bigger challenge. He said his dream job has always been to work at NASA. “As long as I’ve known him, he’s been interested in space and NASA, and at one point he was signing his e-mail with, ‘Mike Blackwater – Future NASA Scientist,’” Jim Sullivan said.

“He’s a pleasure to have in class, in many ways a catalyst who makes the entire class more engaged with his enthusiasm for learning. He’s taken the initiative to form study groups for many of his classes, which improves the performance of everyone in the group. He’s a great student and a natural leader, gregarious and fun to be around,” Jim Sullivan said.

While at NASA, students form teams and establish fictional companies interested in Mars exploration. Each team is responsible for building a functional prototype rover and forming a company infrastructure, including budget, communications and presentations. A-B Tech was represented on the team that won the rover competition held at Marshall. The on-site experience at NASA includes a tour of facilities and briefings by NASA subject matter experts.

Cutlines – A-B Tech Interim President Dr. Dennis King, student Kris Ridenour, Civil Engineering and Geomatics Technology Chair Jim Sulllivan, Math Chair Tammy Sullivan and student Mike Blackwater.

A-B Tech Students Kris Ridenour and Mike Blackwater standing next to a fuel tank section from the upcoming Space Launch System, which will be converted into living quarters for future long-range missions.

About A-B Tech

One of 58 colleges in the North Carolina Community College System, A-B Tech offers associate degrees, diplomas or certificates in more 50 curriculum programs through its five academic divisions – Allied Health and Public Service Education, Arts and Sciences, Business and Hospitality Education, Emergency Services and Engineering and Applied Technology. The Division of Economic and Workforce Development/Continuing Education offers opportunities for specific job training and retraining and personal enrichment classes.

A-B Tech enrolls nearly 27,000 curriculum and continuing education students, and an estimated one in four Buncombe and Madison residents has attended a class at the College.


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