By Leigh Wilhelm, for the Redstone RocketJune 11, 2009
This was rocket science for middle school kids.
Lt. Col. Steve Willhelm recently visited New Hope Middle School where he was a guest instructor at an enrichment program for eighth-graders. He was brought in to teach Rocketry 101 where students were taught basic rocket science and then given the opportunity to build their own model rocket.
Rocketry was one of several Enrichment Clubs sponsored by the CARE Center, also located in New Hope. The center is a multi-denominational partnership of churches serving southeastern Madison County.
Originally begun to provide food and emergency services, the center has expanded its ministry to school-age children through tutoring, camp scholarships, mentoring and enrichment activities. The Enrichment Clubs were designed to encourage students to dream big and increase their exposure to various career fields.
Brought in by his wife, Leigh, who works at the school, Willhelm jumped at the opportunity to participate.
"I'm not exactly a rocket scientist," said Willhelm, product manager for the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor. "I have spent a good bit of time around them during my tours on Kwajalein Atoll as well as supporting the Ground Based Midcourse Defense Program here in Huntsville. Lucky for me, I had learned enough to hold my own with the students but I have to admit, their questions were tougher than I expected."
The program was set up around three consecutive weeks of teaching, each one limited to an hour of class time.
"Time management was a challenge," Willhelm said. "Week one was the Rocket Science 101 part. I've taught before so designing a one-hour PowerPoint class wasn't too bad. The tough part was trying to build and shoot them each in one-hour blocks. Ever try to synchronize 11 eighth-grade boys to build a model rocket in lock step' Good luck!"
Students were most interested in launching their rockets, but they hopefully learned a little about missile defense as well. The class ended with each boy launching his rocket twice on the softball field behind New Hope Middle School.