By Joe Garvey

Old Dominion University's Virginia Institute for Spaceflight & Autonomy (VISA) recently helped facilitate a NASA Wallops/ODU/Eastern Shore Community College (ESCC) Information Session at the Wallops Flight Facility.

The day-long event brought together leaders from ODU, NASA Wallops, both civil servants and contractor workforce, and ESCC to discuss ways to increase collaboration that would better prepare students for careers at NASA Wallops and advance the skills of current employees.

"Our goal for the trip was to get a true sense of the multiple kinds of skill sets Wallops employees need to keep the place humming," said Robert Wojtowicz, ODU's vice provost and dean of its Graduate School. "Partnering with Eastern Shore Community College will allow us to provide their employees with a continuous pathway from associates to bachelor's and master's degrees."

Toward that end, Wojtowicz reviewed ODU's 43 bachelor's and 40 graduate online programs available to ESCC students that could support the aerospace industry at Wallops Island. They range from accounting to aerospace engineering, business administration to cybersecurity, data science and analytics to systems engineering, which demonstrates that there's a need beyond rocket scientists in the aerospace field.

"It was all about making sure both ODU and Eastern Shore Community College understand what the workforce needs are to help grow the aerospace industry," VISA Executive Director David Bowles said. "It's growing up there, and we just want to make sure that we have a good appreciation for what kinds of things they were looking for, all the way from certificate programs at the community college to two-year degrees to four-year degrees to advanced degrees."

Approximately 20% of ESCC grads work at Wallops, a number college President Jim Shaeffer hopes to see grow as his institution and ODU strive to become NASA's primary economic partners on the Eastern Shore.

Shaeffer stressed the need to "better prepare community college students to work at NASA Wallops."

Among the topics discussed were:

  • Building on existing partnerships
  • Ways of closing the education gap to meet NASA Wallops' needs
  • Gaining access to labs and lab materials to better prepare students to work there
  • Workplace-based learning experiences
  • The need to further develop a local workforce pipeline

The group toured spaces seldom seen by the public, including NASA's Mission Operations Control Center and the Antares rocket oceanfront launch pad. They learned about weather balloons that collect data such as barometric pressure, wind speed, etc., at one-second intervals. That information is then sent to the National Weather Service twice a day. They also discussed Rocket Lab USA, which selected Virginia for a neutron rocket launch site and plans for another launch pad at Wallops in 2024.

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