Press Release

Benton, Ill., Native Rudy Gostowski of NASA’s Marshall Center Inspires Minority Students to Pursue Aerospace Careers

By SpaceRef Editor
May 5, 2008
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Rudy Gostowski, a chemist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, hoped for a new challenge when he was accepted into the NASA Administrator’s Fellowship Program in 2005.

He got that challenge — and much more. Gostowski traded in his lab coat for lesson plans when he embarked on his new career as a NASA Fellow at Fisk University — a small, predominantly minority institution in Nashville, Tenn.

The fellowship program was created to further professional development of NASA employees, as well as faculty from minority institutions who teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These fields of study are known as STEM — fields crucial to NASA’s future missions. The program continues the Marshall Center’s long tradition of partnering with scientists, engineers, scholars and researchers at key institutions in Alabama and throughout the nation to promote education and expand STEM disciplines.

During his two years at Fisk University, which has an enrollment of more than 850 students, Gostowski developed a chemistry laboratory course and gave students the opportunity to build and launch rockets as part of the Marshall Center’s Student Launch Initiative. That initiative challenges university-level students to design, build and fly a reusable rocket with scientific payload to one mile in altitude. It’s just one of dozens of NASA and Marshall Center educational programs and initiatives to help attract and inspire America’s next generation of scientists, engineers and explorers.

Gostowski had that same goal in mind when he developed his program at Fisk — to inspire minority students to consider careers at NASA.

“Since Fisk University doesn’t have an engineering program, the lab course and Student Launch Initiative are excellent opportunities to expose students to engineering and science fields,” Gostowski said. “Workforce development is crucial for NASA’s future. And with these programs, the opportunities for these students are endless.”

The launch initiative engages students — paired with NASA engineers as their mentors — in scientific research and real-world engineering processes. Gostowski and Kent Wallace, a Fisk physics professor, founded the Fisk Altitude Achievement Missile Team, a group that has more than doubled from 14 to 30 undergraduate and graduate students.

The team’s mission is to build a competitive rocket for the launch initiative and acquaint grade-school students with rocketry. The team has launched rockets for more than 900 elementary and middle school students in and around Nashville, and encouraged them to pursue careers in math, science, engineering and aerospace.

The Fisk University team also has visited John Coleman Elementary School in Smyrna, Tenn., eight times to engage students in science activities. They’ve shown students how to calculate averages for the distance flown by a paper rocket that the students constructed. And they’ve organized activities such as an “egg lofter” rocket competition, in which the young students were divided into teams to build a rocket to carry an egg to an altitude of about 400 feet, with the goal of having the greatest total time in the air.

The Fisk team also gave students from Nashville’s Martin Luther King Science High School a chance to expand their scientific expertise for the Student Launch Initiative competition. The high school team built a robot to collect data for the Fisk rocket.

Outreach is a primary objective of those in the program to “draw more minorities to the aerospace industry,” Gostowski said. “Last year’s competition showed us that for the students we recruited to participate, it sparked a real interest with them to pursue an aerospace career and encourage others to do the same.”

Another way for minority students to get involved in science is to participate in a general chemistry laboratory course, developed by Gostowski. The lab is designed to be student centered, rather than focused on the teacher, and provides hands-on activities for a better perspective on how science is accomplished.

“This lab is wonderful for students because it is truly about the student,” Gostowski said. “We want to increase their understanding of chemistry. In a typical class, the source of all information is from the instructor, and all decisions are made by the instructor. With an inquiry lab, the students find information themselves and make decisions as to what will be done, how it is done and in what order.”

Although his fellowship at Fisk ended in June 2007, and he is back to work at Marshall’s Materials and Processes Laboratory, Gostowski continues to serve as advisor for the Fisk rocket team, providing technical advice and planning.

But Gostowski’s work to attract more minority students to careers at NASA doesn’t end there. He hopes to be an integral part of establishing an engineering program at Fisk.

For more information on the Fisk Altitude Achievement Missile Team, visit Additional information on the NASA Administrator’s Fellowship Program can be found at

SpaceRef staff editor.