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Hands-On Rocket Building: A Student Experience

Clark engineering student Andrew Jacob has been interested in engineering since fifth grade, when he was first introduced to a bridge-building game.

“The puzzle solving drew me in and I really liked the idea of building something,” he said.

Then, when “Iron Man” came to  theaters in 2008, he saw Tony Stark build a flight suit.

“I was like, ‘Alright, that’s pretty cool. I’m gonna do that!’” he said, realizing he was interested in not just engineering, but aerospace too.

Clark’s Aerospace program offers students the opportunity to build rockets and compete nationally in launch competitions, including The Experimental Sounding Rocket Association’s Spaceport America Cup from June 18-24.

Keith Stansbury, a computer-aided drafting and design professor and the faculty adviser for the Aerospace program, said this particular competition is for test flying rockets. Stansbury said Clark will be competing with over 100 other schools, including Ivy League schools like Harvard University and Yale University.

For the ESRA competition, the program’s team leader is Jacob, who has been in the program for two years.

Jacob will graduate this year with an Associate of Arts and Sciences degree. After Clark, he plans to move on and get his bachelors and masters degree in aerospace engineering.

“The Aerospace program is providing me with hands-on experience that classes just can’t afford,” Jacob said.

Before joining, Jacob said, he mainly took math classes, but building rockets for the program has given him the chance to experience what it’s like to be involved in the aerospace engineering field. He said the program is hard work because he constantly deals with trial and error and things breaking. That’s why the team always performs a few test flights before the competition.

Another challenge in the program, Jacob said, is time.

“We have to balance our work in this program with our personal lives,” he said. “And we have to find time to work on our projects without failing our classes.”

Michael Herlein, a student who’s been in the program since 2014, said he’s spent over 800 hours of work on it throughout the years. He said the program has stepped up its workload in preparation for the upcoming competition.  

Jacob said if you’re willing to put in the work, the payoff is worth it. He said he takes pride in the rockets he’s helped build for competitions and the lifelong friends he’s made throughout the program are invaluable.

“I’m never going to forget going to the test flight competitions and seeing our hard work launch into the sky,” Jacob said. “I’m never going to forget the field trips the program has funded. I’m never going to forget the successes and failures that I’ve learned from and I’m never going to forget the friends I’ve made here.”

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