Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Rocket club helps Escondido students gear up for college

"Three, two, one!" Students from Mission Middle School in Escondido counted down as one of them pressed a button that ignited a rocket engine securely fastened to a table on Warren Mall. It was all part of an event set up by Palomar College's Gear Up program. The program designed to create a college-going culture in schools in North San Diego County.

More than 180 middle school students fanned across the UC San Diego campus Tuesday Jan. 14. One of the stops on their itinerary was a demonstration by the Triton Rocket Club, whose members are mostly engineering students. "Rocket science, blowing things up: students are doing this for a living," said Nico Montoya, an IDEA scholar and president of the Triton Rocket Club."It's an actual career." Montoya speaks from experience. He has interned at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and currently works on UAVs at Northrop Grumman.

On a very sunny morning, he showed students how to wire a rocket engine and explained the chemical reactions involved. A few lucky students got to use the remote that actually starts up the engine. Elizabeth Flor, 13, was one of them. She let out a jubilant "I did it!" after pressing the button and seeing flames shoot out of the engine's exhaust.

"It was exciting," she said. "I'd never done it. It's an intense feeling."

Elizabeth wants to become a lawyer and fight for women's rights. Her parents didn't go to college, but if all goes well, she will be the fifth sibling in her family to go on to higher education after she graduates high school.

Elizabeth visited the UCLA campus before coming to UC San Diego. But for a lot of her classmates, it was the first trip outside of Escondido, said Abby Algarin, Gear Up outreach coordinator at Mission Middle School. She worked with the Raza graduate student association on campus to make sure that students got to hear from graduate students and faculty with similar backgrounds.

Students visibly connected with the speakers who shared some of their experiences, said Suzan Varga, a Mission Middle School teacher and one of the chaperones on the trip.
"What I feel as a teacher is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel," she said. "It was powerful."

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