By LYDIA BERGLAR
In the third week of April, six healthcare and engineering students in Dade County High Schools’s CTAE program (Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education) attended the national NASA HUNCH competition in Houston, Texas. Jennifer Clark (healthcare science and NASA HUNCH teacher and HOSA advisor), Shenea Hill (director of career and technology innovation), and Mike Beeler (mechatronics teacher) led the venture.
The story behind this competition and NASA HUNCH’s Health and Biomedical Science pathway is the direct result of DCHS teachers and students. Both Clark and Hill were integral in the pathway’s beginnings. Clark reported, “Shenea’s behind-the-scenes dedication is a big reason for our success and being declared the first NASA HUNCH Center of Excellence in 2022.”
NASA HUNCH first came to Dade County in 2018. Early pathways in the program include the graphic arts pathway at both the middle and high school, GreenPower racing at the middle school, and TinkerCAD and MakerBots at both elementary schools.
In 2020 and 2021, with changes due to COVID-19, Clark had to switch tactics with her Third Level Allied Health and Medicine students, saying, “In previous years, the third level students had the opportunity to rotate into different healthcare facilities around the community. However, many of the facilities would not allow the students to rotate for obvious infection control reasons.”
While Clark was considering what to offer her students instead, the CTAE teachers met with NASA HUNCH co-founder, Robert Zeek. Clark recalled, “He talked with all of the departments about how they could incorporate the HUNCH program into their classes. As I listened to him talk about engineering, culinary, media, etc., I waited for him to share how I could incorporate NASA HUNCH into my healthcare classes.”
At the time, NASA HUNCH did not have any healthcare competitions. Clark asked Zeek if this was an opportunity for a collaboration. She reported, “He basically gave us free reign over what to do. After researching various healthcare issues that astronauts have in a microgravity environment on a space flight, my students landed on the mental health of the astronauts.”
At the end of the spring 2021 semester, Clark, Hill, and Zeek listened to the class’s ideas. Cassidy Jones of the Class of 2021 came up with the idea to create scent capsules. Clark explained, “These would stimulate positive memory via sensory reception, using smells such as Christmas (using cinnamon) or a spouse’s cologne.”
The following school year, Clark’s students continued the project of scent capsules. Clark said, “They worked on their ideas, presentations, and prototypes and presented them to Zeek and the founder of NASA HUNCH, Stacy Hale, in February 2022. Hale and Zeek were so impressed with the students’ work that they wanted NASA HUNCH to collaborate with the DCHS health classes to do a pilot program.”
The students continued to refine their ideas and prototypes, and in May 2022, a NASA HUNCH team from Texas returned to DCHS. After this visit, NASA HUNCH decided to launch its first nationwide Health and Biomedical Science competition, which occurred in the third week of April at the Johnson Space Station in Houston, Texas.
Clark stated, “There were many different competitions to choose from such as IV fluid administration on long-duration flights, 3D printed medical instruments, portable IV fluid generation, medical inventory system, edible packaging on long-duration missions, and mental health in space.”
DCHS students placed in the top ten nationwide in the edible packaging and mental health categories. Gracie Angle, Brooklyn Konrad, and Brietta Watson placed for their work on edible packaging solutions. Jack Dupree and Alleigh Daniels placed for their work on mental health issues that astronauts face. Tanner Kunkel placed in the top ten for working as an engineering student with both groups.
In addition to presenting their work, DCHS students toured the flight simulation area and the Space and Rocket Center.
Konrad said, “This was the best school trip ever, filled with meeting astronauts, hanging with friends, and exploring Texas.”
Daniels said, “It was a privilege to represent our school with a challenge we got to pioneer. We were put to the test, delivered, and made as some of the best memories this school has given me.”
Clark reported, “We set up the students’ projects in the Saturn V building at Rocket Park. Projects were viewed by various flight surgeons, payload groups, NASA engineers, biomedical staff, and astronauts. One of the biggest highlights of the trip was when Victor Glover, the astronaut assigned as the pilot of NASA’s Artemis II mission to the moon, stopped by one of our group’s displays. He spoke with Alleigh Daniels, Jack Dupree, and Tanner Kunkel for almost ten minutes.”
Regarding the group’s project, Glover stated, “As someone who has been there, I can understand how we don’t give [mental health] the attention it deserves, but it is primary. [Mental health] makes physical well-being easier.”
The group’s new goal is to personalize one of their prototypes for Glover.
Clark reported, “Gracie Angle, Brooklyn Konrad, and Brietta Watson had a show stopper with their edible packaging. Many of the NASA HUNCH members loved their idea and encouraged them on a job well done. I was so proud to watch the DCHS students present their prototypes numerous times throughout the day in such a professional manner.”
She concluded, “It was a privilege for me, Mr. Mike Beeler, and Mrs. Shenea Hill to take these CTAE students beyond the mountains to show the world how awesome Dade County students are.”