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UND hosts national space showcase

About 200 delegates converge on UND for NASA Space Grant Consortium conference

Caitlin Nolby
Caitlin Nolby, an alum of UND’s Space Studies Department and deputy director of the North Dakota Space Grant Consortium, along with coordinator Marissa Saad, spent nearly a year planning a recent UND-based conference that attracted representatives from every Space Grant Consortium in the nation. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

A welcome banner at the Grand Forks airport set the tone as UND hosted a national NASA Space Grant Consortium conference last week at the Alerus Center.

From the banner to the venue, the 200 delegates were impressed with their North Dakota welcome.

It’s the first time UND has hosted the conference, which offered some other firsts: interactive sessions and discussions with NASA officials, including Mike Kincaid, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Education.

“I’ve been to all kinds of these meetings, and I like the way this one is run,” said Keith Hudson, Arkansas Space Grant Consortium director. “This is the first time we’ve had a Q&A with the deputy director. There are new things that haven’t happened at other meetings.”

“The venue is perfect, and had everything I required plus more,” said B. Chad Starks, associate director of the NASA Delaware Space Grant Consortium, who presented an interactive session on diversity and increasing the number of women and people of color in STEM fields.

North Dakota welcome

About 200 delegates from across the United States attended the conference, which ran Sept. 14-16. Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford addressed the group on Thursday, as did Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown and a number of other NASA officials.

“This is a great opportunity for delegates to experience North Dakota,” said Marissa Saad, coordinator of the North Dakota Space Grant Consortium, who spent nearly a year planning the conference with Deputy Director Caitlin Nolby and others.

“It’s a rare opportunity to get representatives from every Space Grant Consortium in the nation,” said Nolby.

“In the past, we’ve had a series of presentations from NASA headquarters,” said Barrett Caldwell, Director of the Indiana Space Grant Consortium. “This year, we were able to hold discussions with Mr. Kincaid. He was accessible and the discussions were very good. That’s exciting.”

“It’s really fantastic to talk with a leader who has oversight of all areas of NASA education,” said Angela Des Jardins, director of the Montana Space Grant Consortium and vice-chair of the Space Grant Executive Committee. “To have him come and engage in small group discussions is an amazing opportunity for everyone.”

Caitlin Nolby, B. Chad Starks and Marissa Saad
Caitlin Nolby (left), deputy director of NASA North Dakota Space Grant Consortium; pose for a photo with B. Chad Starks, associate director of the NASA Delaware Space Grant Consortium and one of the conference presenters; and Marissa Saad, coordinator of the North Dakota NASA Space Grant Consortium. Photo by Jan Orvik.

NASA network

The NASA Space Grant Consortium, formed in 1989, is a national network of colleges and universities that offer opportunities to take part in NASA aeronautics and space projects. The program supports STEM, science and engineering education as well as research and public outreach.

UND Space Studies administers the North Dakota program, with affiliates at NDSU, all public colleges and tribal colleges in the state, as well as other locations. Its goal is to increase STEM and technical education and contribute to the education and welfare of North Dakotans.

Students also attended the conference. “I’m having a great time,” said Thanasi Pantazides, a junior aerospace engineering major from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. “I spent last summer working with a small satellite project, and it’s a nice opportunity to understand the management structure and see how decisions are made.”

“These are passionate folks involved in education and bringing education to every state and every part of each state,” said Steve Ruffin, professor of aerospace engineering at Georgia Tech, director of the Georgia Space Grant Consortium and Council chair. “It’s a thrill to be with program managers, people from NASA headquarters, and folks looking to bring NASA inspiration to every state. I think the local planning committee has done a phenomenal job.”

“This event was a great opportunity to showcase both the hospitality of North Dakota and the capabilities of UND, the Odegard School, and Space Studies,” said James Casler, professor and chair of Space Studies. “It also proved to be an opportunity to show the support of our Congressional delegation and of North Dakota. We received a lot of great comments about the meeting, which we really appreciate. Caitlin and Marissa did an extraordinary job putting this all together.”