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Higgins celebrates Buffalo & Niagara Falls students making history in latest NASA launch


Tue, Feb 21st 2017 04:45 pm

'Spud Launchers' & student mission patch designers share their experiences as they return from a trip to Kennedy Space Center

Congressman Brian Higgins welcomed Buffalo and Niagara Falls students back to Western New York following a trip to NASA's Kennedy Space Center to witness their work blast up to the International Space Station during a launch on Sunday, Feb. 19.

"It is exciting to see the incredible creativity of local students recognized nationally," Higgins said. "This is a real-life demonstration of the critical role the arts and sciences play in education. These students made history, and their story is one that will inspire others to reach for the stars."

Michelle Kavanaugh, president of WNY STEM Hub, said, "The five student winners of the Buffalo-Niagara Spaceflight Project facilitated by WNY STEM Hub were the most talented in experiment and artwork deign among hundreds of students regionally and thousands nationally. This is a real-world experience in STEM/STEAM that has changed students' futures."

Buffalo Public School Students Gabriella Melendez, Toriana Cornwell and Shaniylah Welch partnered with WNY STEM Hub to develop and fine-tune their experiment, ultimately winning a competition through the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program and securing a role in a NASA mission. The students' project, "Tuber Growth in Microgravity," will test the ability for potatoes to grow at the International Space Station. It earned the students the nickname "Spud Launchers."

"I am appreciative of WNY STEM Hub, board member Sharon Belton-Cottman, and School No. 74 science teacher Andrew Franz for mentoring our students toward their role in history that carries pride for their school, the district and the region," said Buffalo Superintendent Kriner Cash. "I believe that inspiring young minds to reach goals in fields beyond the classroom carries lifelong benefits. The students being recognized today have learned that ideas can take root, and the possibilities lie far beyond what we can readily see."

Buffalo Public School Board Vice President and Ferry District member Sharon Belton-Cottman said, "We are reminded and encouraged today by the unlimited possibilities that exist. When we recognize that the single most important factor in determining our students' ability to achieve excellence comes from the commitment and the investments that adults, especially their teachers, are willing to invest. "


Elise Glahe a sixth-grade student at Harry Abate Elementary School in Niagara Falls, and Janiah Thomas, a seventh-grade student at the Math, Science & Technology Preparatory School in Buffalo, won a design competition to create a mission patch. The students' winning patches were flown into space.

Niagara Falls City School District Superintendent Mark Laurrie said, "We recently completed the construction of STEM classrooms at all our schools, and we have very committed people coordinating our program. Opportunities like this one show students that any goal is within their reach. We are very happy for Miss Glahe to have been chosen to have a role in this unique project."

The SpaceX Dragon lifted-off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Sunday. The local students were among approximately 200 students, teachers and parents from across the U.S. participating in the viewing with organized by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, WNY STEM's national partner in this project. Students viewed the launch from the Kennedy Athletic, Recreation & Social Park.

The students who participated in the program and made the trip to the Space Center shared their experiences upon their return at an event with Higgins, school administrators, teachers and parents held at the Milestones of Science Exhibit at the Buffalo & Erie County Downtown Central Library.

Library Director Mary Jean Jakubowski said, "It was American astronomer Carl Sagan who said, 'Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.' On behalf of the Library System, ladies, we are extremely proud of your accomplishments and thank you so very much for using your imagination and passion for science to make our world a better place."

In January 2016, the "Spud Launchers" were also invited by the White House to participate in a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) event in Washington, D.C.

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