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NASA engineer energizes priory’s all-girl rocket club

    Hawaii-born NASA shuttle engineer Chris Davis, a graduate of Damien High School, talked to the students, answered questions and did a presentation on space exploration yesterday with members of the St. Andrew's Priory School rocketry club.
    St. Andrew's Priory School's rocketry club listened yesterday to Chris Davis' presentation.

A Hawaii-born NASA engineer encouraged St. Andrew’s Priory’s rocket club yesterday to shoot for the moon or Mars.

"Learning to learn is the key so you can go where you want," said Chris Davis, a NASA shuttle engineer and a graduate of Damien High School and the University of Hawaii. "Just get ready for more work."

Davis, winner of NASA’s highest award for his investigation of the 2003 Columbia shuttle tragedy, gave a presentation on space exploration and shared practical advice about careers in NASA and in general.

After speaking to the only all-girls rocket club in the nation, the 20-year NASA veteran said, "These students are going to be designing rockets to go to Mars and other planets. … You really need that seed planted. They’re going to fly to the moon."

Members of the priory’s rocket club were inspired by Davis’ example and words.

Senior Shawnalyn Sunagawa, 17, found it interesting to hear a local person who found opportunity and success outside Hawaii, NASA no less.

"He helped me realize there’s more to engineering than building bridges and buildings. … I could build a shuttle or be part of the next shuttle landing. There’s a need for women in engineering, and I think engineering is more of an option," she said.

Jenna Kita, 16, whose parents are encouraging her to take up a business career but who is leaning toward medicine, said, "I really liked when he said, ‘Go for it and really enjoy it. Go with your gut feeling.’"

Davis emphasized looking to the end result of their studies. He shared how a fellow engineer "hates math and engineering, but it lets him do all the cool things."

He told the girls he hopes the aerospace industry will come to Hawaii. He said there are geographic advantages for launching rockets from Hawaii. Although NASA’s shuttle program is ending next year, Davis said the next generation is a heavy-lift vehicle to transport cargo to the moon or Mars.

Club members showed Davis the model rockets they have built. They have used a component of solid rocket fuel to fire them at a third of the speed of sound, up to 1,000 feet-plus high.

Jake Hudson Jr., club adviser, priory physics teacher and astrophysicist, said, "I’m a real believer in a project-based education. … It reinforces concepts."

He also finds that boys often sequester themselves when trying to find answers, whereas girls are more social in problem-solving.

Rocket team captain Frances Skarden, 18, a senior, said the priory’s rocket club had success three years ago when the team went to the nationals. She was encouraged by the possibility of actually landing a job in the private sector or NASA.

"We’re going to be the future for NASA," she said. "He talked about how we’re the ones."


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