What is the Colonel Alvin Drew Space Camp?
The General Lloyd W. “Fig” Newton Chapter (or ‘Newton Chapter’) of TAI,
recognizes the need to provide programs for school-aged children that will
inspire them to pursue greatness through higher education. Our programs
are designed to present careers to students in a way in which they can
relate; we do this by building upon the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.
The remarkable story of the pilots and support personnel who eventually
comprised the 332nd Fighter Group provide a true-life example that anyone
can achieve excellence in the face of adversity. The aviators of this unit
trained to earn the right to fight in the armed forces during World War II,
then proved their ability to provide bomber escort against enemy aircraft by
posting a near-perfect record. The 332nd was manned by African-American
Airmen who formed a self-sufficient, segregated unit. In many cases, this
meant they had to train themselves in order to accomplish their mission.
Their legendary accomplishments prove that goals such as higher
education and a future in these fields are truly within their reach. This
camp is an unparalleled example of how Newton Chapter programs instill
a “yes you can” mindset in today’s youth.
The all-volunteer membership of the Newton Chapter dedicates their year to planning for the camp to ensure the best possible experience for the students. The camp emphasizes a “hands-on/minds-on” approach that allows students to see how the concepts they learn are applied in actual work by various research agencies. In some cases, they get to apply this knowledge in planned activities throughout the week.
This mindset directly mirrors the experience of the original Tuskegee Airmen. Whereas these Airmen had to rely on themselves and each other to become an effective combat unit, so too must the Newton Chapter and our mission partners bond together to provide this experience where it otherwise would not exist. This will hopefully serve to inspire our students to pursue higher education opportunities, even in the absence of obvious means.
The Colonel Alvin Drew Space Camp is a 7-day camp, usually offered in the month of June, offers students an introduction to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) career fields from the unique perspective of space. It is an extraordinary opportunity for youth ages 12 – 17 to receive first-hand experiences that would otherwise not be available through the school systems or other programs.
The camp is named after Colonel Alvin Drew, a retired Air Force pilot and former NASA astronaut. Col Drew has had a distinguished career of military service as a test pilot and a combat rescue pilot during his years of service subsequent to his commissioning through the U.S. Air Force Academy. He was a mission specialist on two shuttle flights, and now serves as a NASA liaison as a civil servant. Col Drew’s accomplishments build on those of the Tuskegee Airmen, proving that any goal is achievable with dedication, persistence, and outstanding performance.
Perhaps the greatest feature of the space camp is its location. The set of resources available through the cooperation of our mission partners constitute a program that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the United States, simply because of its proximity to key research activities. The Newton Chapter is based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with strong ties to Kirtland Air Force Base and numerous partners. New Mexico is the only state that has the type of research & development, test, and technology centers offered by this program.
Concept of Operations
First and foremost, our camp staff and volunteers ensure a safe and respectful environment at all times. While the camp is a thrilling experience, we emphasize proper and professional conduct at all times by the students, volunteers and the staff. Many of the locations we visit are accessible as a courtesy to us, so we ensure all students clearly understand these expectations for conduct.
The Col Alvin Drew Space Camp is a hands-on/minds-on experience designed to introduce students to important STEM concepts, instill a basic understanding of the same, and motivate students to continue their journey of learning based on the trail blazed by the Tuskegee Airmen.
The camp has four basic features: classroom instruction, exposure to the higher education environment, fully interactive science & engineering activities, and tours of specialized space-related facilities conducted by experts in various scientific fields.
Instructional Design and Dynamic Teaching
Initially, the space camp strongly mimicked our Youth Aviation Camp with the first space camp in 2014, that being 5 days in duration with a simple set of tours and projects. This critical baseline helped us
understand the practical challenges of operating a traveling program especially for children. In 2015, we renamed the camp after Col Alvin Drew and applied a wealth of lessons learned to overhaul the content and sequence of events. We expanded the length to 7 days and added the high altitude balloon launch to the schedule. The lessons learned from the first year led to dramatic improvements in the quality of the educational experience, required resources, and ways to better sequence various activities.
The specifics of the camp’s curriculum continue to evolve based on available resources in each particular year. Additionally, the staff make adjustments due to necessities of weather conditions affecting experimentation and schedule changes that flow from our mission partners. Typically, students can expect to receive academic instruction on Kirtland AFB, Magdalena schools, New Mexico Tech, New Mexico State University (NMSU), and the University of New Mexico (UNM).
Students are introduced to fundamental scientific concepts at the very
beginning of the camp. All subsequent activities will build on this knowledge base to re-enforce the academics. Orientation covers Newton’s laws of motion, key features of rocket flight, and the composition of Earth’s atmospheric layers along with their key characteristics.
Students are led through several complex projects that allow them to apply the concepts they have learned. They build High Powered Rockets in teams and launch them under the supervision of the staff. In preparation for the launch, they compute the calculated flight trajectory using simulation software (RockSim). They collect flight data from HD cameras and altimeter recorders to correlate their findings with expected performance.
Assuming favorable weather conditions, students will “touch” space with a high altitude design package (weather, camera, altimeter). They will work in complimentary teams to track the project flight path, locate the payload after landing, and recover the project. They will conduct post-mission analysis by reviewing the flight profile and viewing video highlights.
One of the most direct benefits of these tours is that the presenters are professionals in their fields. These provide our students with an understanding of their contributions to national and international technology development from not only a conceptual level, but from a practical sense as well. They are able to explain the type of work that goes on in their organization, display (and in some cases, demonstrate) ongoing projects, and then relate those individual efforts to the broader fields of STEM technologies. The researchers are able to tell students exactly how they use their education in their day-to-day work; in other words, they explain why math is important! We also discovered a dimension of these sessions not originally conceived; that the presenters would be positioned to inspire our rising scientists and engineers with their own stories. Several have shared the struggles they faced and barriers they overcame that strongly parallel the lessons we strive to pass on from the Noble Experiment of the Tuskegee Airmen themselves. Such encounters make the Tuskegee Airmen’s plight more than a mere history lesson, but actual examples of how to overcome adversity with dedication and confidence.
Partnerships are an absolutely indispensable element of our success. Many portions of the camp are only possible with the help of local area agencies and organizations. These provide a critical element to student learning, as they are all able to show students actual professional work projects and techniques applied on a daily basis. This truly brings STEM to life for our camp. Students are treated to tours of various scientific and engineering facilities throughout the week of the camp. The typical roster of locations is subject to adjustments, but typically includes the following locations: Very Large Array (VLA) a.k.a. National Radio Astronomy Observatory; Magdalena Ridge Observatory to view constellations and other celestial features; White Sands Test Facility (NASA) site to view laboratories conducting ongoing research as well as historical Apollo program artifacts; White Sands Missile Range (U.S. Army) featuring the V-2 Rocket Museum as well as a decommissioned test launch site, Air Force Research Lab’s satellite integration and test facility.
Our camp staff includes as much preparation as with the students as possible ahead of the tours. For example, students are given StarDome instruction by staff from the VLA. The StarDome is an inflatable, scaled-down planetarium that projects images on its interior surface. This transportable learning tool provides a basic understanding of constellations and the major features of our solar system, thereby providing important context for their visit to the Magdalena Ridge Observatory.
Schedule permitting, students enjoy an interactive visit to the New Mexico Museum of Space History. The museum features both indoor and outdoor displays, mostly of retired equipment from actual research and development efforts. As one might expect, the museum has a small gift shop where visitors may purchase souvenirs.
We have been fortunate enough to arrange for video calls with engineers from the Space Exploration Corporation (SpaceX). These sessions provide students with a first-hand understanding of the work that goes into launching the Falcon 9 rocket carrying a wide range of satellites to orbit for governments and businesses alike!
SpaceX is also at the forefront of bold new scientific endeavors to take mankind to new destinations across our solar system, not the least of which is the planet Mars! This portion of the camp brings real excitement into the classroom by making cutting edge science more than something just seen on television.
How We Apply Resources
First, the camp is staffed by a 100% volunteer force. All members donate their time, which in many cases means the use of personal vacation days from full time jobs. They also provide a devotion to service as well as the professional skills they have amassed throughout their careers. Every member of our team brings a lifetime of professional experience to the table from a diverse array of fields. These include, but are not limited to: piloting, engineering, system & project management, education, space technology and technology testing.
The Newton Chapter also raises funds to remove financial constraints to families to promote participation. The funds we obtain for the camps are used to make this a free experience for the students. The only cost is for meals which students pay directly for whatever they order at restaurants, however we do provide need-based stipends for qualified families. We provided need-based meal assistance to 100% of the applying families in 2015, constituting 22% of our students. Our goal is to be able to support up to 40% in this fashion.
Other costs we cover include transportation, equipment for activities such as the rocket launch, and use of dorm rooms at universities during overnight segments in Socorro and Las Cruces/Alamogordo. Since we are 100% staffed by volunteers, we pay no salaries. All donations and funds raised for the camps are used for activities in direct support of these programs. One major goal is to be able to purchase ruggedized iPads loaded with software packages aimed at making the instructional portions more dynamic. This also makes information available to students on demand while in the field conducting experiments. These iPads will also allow us to engage with prospective campers at various exhibitions throughout the central New Mexico area.
The Colonel Alvin Drew Space Camp was established in 2014. However, it has a strong lineage in another wildly successful program offered by the Newton Chapter, the Summer Aviation Camp. That program began in 2008, structured as a half-day camp for 5 days. It began simply as an orientation to the marvels of flight, and over the years grew into a full-day adventure culminating in flights with the Kirtland AFB Aero Club.
The camps owe their inception to people of vision; a vision of helping teens discover a true belief in STEM careers they would have never thought possible for a multitude of reasons. These believers recognized that the state education systems were not adequately addressing the problem, and institutions of higher education were not making inroads into these particular focus areas. Not only that, but naturally there are large portions of area children who are not reached. Perhaps most importantly, they recognized that a world of good could be achieved outside of the normal avenues. This eventually developed into a partnership between public schools, non-profits, businesses, government agencies, and institutions of higher learning.
This concept grew from the experiences and passion of Jim Sauer, a teacher in the Magdalena. His stalwart belief in the beneficial works the Newton Chapter could offer resulted in a strong partnership with the Magdalena Municipal Schools. The sitting chapter president relentlessly lobbied Jim to stand-up a space camp as well after visiting several of the tour locations during holiday excursion with her own family. Since then, Jim even went so far as to formally join TAI. He continues to generously dedicate a tremendous portion of his personal time to make the program just as successful as the aviation camp as the lead instructor. He continues to embrace innovation to inspire kids to pursue STEM careers. Jim works especially hard to ensure opportunities for bright young adults who may face a number of obstacles, both in school and out.
Jim’s belief in this community-centric solution is joined by many like-minded individuals, many of whom are also veterans with their own unique contributions to offer. The other originator of the camps is Lt Col Alex Carothers (USAF ret). Alex is a Command Pilot with over 22 years of active duty experience, having traveled the world in support of numerous operational missions. He is also a longtime believer in the value of mentoring future generations. An Air Force Academy graduate, Alex knows firsthand the importance of education in everyday life. He takes personal responsibility for improving access to, and the motivation for, higher learning within his community. Alex’s broad educational background, extensive experience in aviation and the practical application of space based systems, allows him to serve both as instructor and role model for both summer camps.
For Alex, the summer camps are simply the finishing touch to a year’s worth of efforts. During the preceding months, he serves as a TAI Ambassador presenting numerous hands on STEM related programs in schools and other venues. These events provide youth throughout the central New Mexico area with awareness of STEM opportunities to include our camps. In turn, it provides him with direct access to those we are trying to reach, bringing critical insight into their needs, motivators, and interests. A self-professed, “Geek,” Alex is a true force-multiplier in that he constantly brings innovation to our programs. He collaborates with Jim to bring new technologies to use for student experiments, as well as opportunities to improve our functions as a chapter in pursuit of our goals.
Winston Campbell is a legacy member of TAI who has supported programs across the nation for over 20 years. He has managed major systems during that time, the last 11 of which have been in space technologies. Winston’s experience brings a unique understanding of how current Research & Development efforts relate to current and future space systems. His body of work included support for satellite
While we have remained viable as a member of the vital few, we recognize the clear advantage in establishing strength in numbers. Our relationships span the full spectrum of private citizens, schools, universities, other non-profits, large and small businesses as well as local, state and federal government offices. We aim to continue growing these public-private partnerships, thereby demonstrating the art of the possible when selfless people work towards a common goal.
Colonel Drew personally subscribes to the belief that the sky is not the limit. The camp bearing his name embodies that philosophy in every regard. We are constantly looking at ways to improve the benefit to the students, whether that is by changing activities, adding new ones, or gaining efficiencies to allow more time for particular learning modules.
Examples of new ideas we continue to explore include: construction of CubeSats (miniature satellites) in the hopes of inclusion on a launch mission, construction of an ISS scale modeling in a swimming pool to simulate low-gravity activities, fuels research, crater impact analysis, robotics, and much more! If you have an idea for how we can improve our programs, or for more information, please contact us at education@tai-Albuquerque.org.
communications, space launch systems, and space-based imagery. Winston developed a vision for achieving the full potential of the Col Alvin Drew Space Camp immediately after chaperoning in the first year of the program. His two main objectives are to ensure the student experience is as potent as possible, and to help publicize the opportunity extensively. The benefit of the former is to provide each student with the maximum set of tools; the latter will both attract youth who most need the experience, and gain support for the resources needed to keep the camp available to those aspiring technologists!