For release: 08/02/02
Release #: 02-195
Education program at the Marshall Center helps student gain knowledge and shape her future
To some, it's a nightmare from school days past. But when 18-year-old Alexis Adams looks at the periodic table of chemical elements, she sees the future a very bright future. As a student in the Summer High School Apprenticeship Research Program at the Marshall Center, Adams discovered her love of chemical engineering. And, thanks in part to her work at Marshall last summer, Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Ala., has awarded Adams a presidential scholarship worth up to $100,000 to study a science discipline.
Photo: Alexis Adams experiments with her future at the Marshall Center. (NASA/MSFC)
To some, it’s a nightmare from school days past. But when 18-year old Alexis Adams looks at the periodic table of chemical elements, she sees the future – a very bright future.
As a student in the Summer High School Apprenticeship Research Program, called “SHARP” for short, at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., Adams discovered her love of chemical engineering. Now, in her second year of the program, she’s learning some life lessons along with the science.
James Perkins, who leads the Marshall Center’s Analytical Environmental Chemistry group, and has worked with students in NASA programs for 11 years, mentored Alexis last summer. And this summer he “jumped at the chance” to work with her again.
“Working with students like Alexis keeps me young. And teaches me patience,” Perkins laughed.
SHARP students learn “teamwork and tenacity,” said Perkins, helping them to deal with problems in all areas of life. The gentle kidding between mentor and student also illustrates how the program teaches students about friendship and helps bridge the gap between the “Baby Boomers” and “Generation X.”
Adams finished sixth in her 2002 graduation class of more than 1,200 students at Johnson High School in Huntsville. She’s such an outstanding student that Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Ala., awarded her its presidential scholarship worth up to $100,000 to study a science discipline.
She won the Tuskegee scholarship in part because of her work on a SHARP project last summer at Marshall in which she tested materials used in the Space Shuttle for chemical reactions with different solutions. In the experiment, she found chemical reactions that could potentially impact Shuttle components and helped the Space Shuttle project office expand their database of material properties and interactions.
Alexis’ maturity level has grown so markedly since she joined the program last summer, said Perkins, that he now has her advising his newest SHARP student. For Adams, the responsibility of peer mentoring has given her new insight into what students starting high school this fall should do.
“Approach your first year by doing your best and building your reputation with your teachers,” she advised. “That way, you can build on it every year until you graduate.”
The NASA SHARP program is designed to attract a diverse group of high school students to aerospace careers. Students who are chosen for the program live within commuting distance from participating NASA centers, and become summer apprentices to scientists and engineers, performing assignments under the supervision of mentors. SHARP is one of many NASA programs that support educational excellence through outreach at NASA field centers around the country.
Being a part of Marshall’s SHARP program helped Adams discover her love of chemical engineering and stimulated her decision to pursue it as a career.
Her mother Tommie, a teacher at Davis Hills Middle School in Huntsville, also helped her see the importance of studying hard. But while Adams considered teaching as a career, her mother influenced her to explore other fields where she might use her talents in chemistry.
The young woman with a quick smile isn’t all about science, though. While she’s set on pursuing a chemical engineering degree, this former high school drum majorette plays a handful of musical instruments, sings, and harbors a dream to be “the next Whitney Houston or Alicia Keyes.” And, like her mentor James Perkins, she also has a talent for baking.
Who knows? Perhaps their shared talent for mixing ingredients in the kitchen set both mentor and student on the path of chemical engineering. Whatever the case, the SHARP program at Marshall encourages participants to be well rounded.
For students like Alexis, that’s the icing on the cake.
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