NASA mechanical engineer visits local elementary school

Kobie Boykins and a replica Mars rover at Oak Hills Elementary School. Lorena Mejia/The Signal

A countdown at Oak Hills Elementary School was the beginning of a space exploration presentation Tuesday afternoon.

Students at the elementary school had the opportunity to learn about the Mars rovers and space exploration with Kobie Boykins, a senior mechanical engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

“We’re really excited for him to be on our campus to share information about NASA JPL and give us a hands-on experience of the Mars rover,” said Wendy Maxwell, principal at the school.

Replica Mars rover goes over students during demonstration. Lorena Mejia/The Signal

The opportunity was planned as a team effort among the Oak Hills Educational Foundation, which is formed by parents at the elementary school.

“Starting next year, we’re looking forward to building our own robotics team on campus, makerspace, and also introducing science and technology assemblies a few times a year for our students,” said Janet Seres, president of the organization, and mother of two students at the school.

School officials anticipate several new programs that focus on hands-on experience and activities for students from kindergarten to sixth grade.

“This is brand new to us and a program that we would like to bring each year,” said Maxwell. “We’re also partnering with JPL to have a planetarium come to campus each year for different grade levels.”

During the science assembly, Boykins explained how rovers are launched into space and what their responsibilities are once they land on Mars. He brought a replica rover and, in a demonstration of its capabilities, drove it over the legs of several student volunteers.

The mechanical engineer also shared knowledge that only a scientist would know: NASA caught its first glimpse of an earthquake on Mars.

Replica Mars rover goes over teachers during space exploration demonstration. Lorena Mejia/The Signal

“For me, the message for elementary kids is ‘Keep Dreaming,’ that this kind of thing is possible and that we do this and it’s achievable for them as well,” said Boykins. “I get to see how joyous they are to learn about this kind of thing, and hopefully for them, they walk away going, ‘That’s really cool. I like space exploration and maybe I can do that as a career.’”

Boykins designed the solar array systems for the Mars exploration rovers Spirit and Opportunity, and designed the actuators on the Mars rover Curiosity.

As he continues to be on the front lines of Mars exploration, he also told the students that he is currently working on another space mission. The new rover will orbit Europa and investigate if there’s an ocean underneath the ice, or life.

Boykins added: “It’s our job to help push (STEM) forward and give kids as many opportunities at all of the things that are out there today because the next innovation might not be the internet, or might not be Facebook, but we have the tools to push so that they can learn.”

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