December 9, 2021

Above and Beyond: The Future of STEM at ASCEND

When students Kiera Fehr, Chirag Goel, Skye McCord and Abi Youngker all attended their city’s Go For Launch! event, at one point they all stood at the front of the room before their peers and presented their teams experiment design. Full of nerves, expectation, and wonder, they never anticipated the impact of that one presentation.

These students represented Go For Launch! programs and winning experiments from the states of Illinois, Kentucky, and Arizona. They all had their team’s winning experiment launched into space and either retrieved or are in the process of retrieving real data conducted from its time in microgravity.  

Fast forward to 2021 and Fehr, Goel, McCord and Youngker are seated before a room of industry leaders and space enthusiasts at ASCEND, an out of this world event powered by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). ASCEND spotlights individuals and projects that feature key topics of discussion in the space community. ASCEND was full of industry experts, entrepreneurs, enthusiasts, and all those who share a passion for space opportunity and a curiosity for what is beyond.

However, thinking about what is beyond, requires us to focus on the students of today.

Goel, Fehr, McCord, and Youngker posing with their panel discussion sign at ASCEND!

Our stellar Go For Launch! alumni and one of our featured Astronauts at our GFL! events, Astronaut Greg H. Johnson, shared their influential experiences on stage. The panel “Inspiring the Next Generation of STEMists & Explorers to Higher Orbits,” was led by our Founder and CEO Michelle Lucas.

During this panel, Youngker, McCord, Goel, and Fehr all shared the basis of their Go For Launch! experiments. They also shared the emotional impacts of having such an opportunity and what it meant for them to continue navigating and networking throughout the space and STEM community.

“Before immersing myself in the wonderful world of Higher Orbits, I never would have dreamed

that I could be a part of something so grand and so important,” said Fehr, a team member of V Atlas the winning team of our 2019 Series. “Not only am I honored to be chosen, but endlessly thankful to have such a strong support system within Higher Orbits.”

Fehr is a high school junior who attends the Craft Academy for Excellence in Science and Mathematics on the campus of Morehead State University. She is driven by her passion for engineering and has won several national science fair awards including being named both a top 300 Broadcom MASTERS and Regeneron International Science & Engineering Fair (ISEF) finalist.

McCord is a senior at Crystal Lake South High School and has been an avid space and science lover all her life. Skye is pursuing her studies in STEM and continues to work with Higher Orbits as a member of their Advisory Board and Marketing & Communications committee.

“Students are the future of STEM and I think it's very important for them to be exposed to different fields and options when it comes to finding their passions, and it's been so wonderful to see so many other students find their dream careers in STEM through the help of Higher Orbit's programs,” said Skye McCord, who was a part of the Centaurus A Series winning team in 2017.

Youngker attended a GFL! event her freshman year of high school almost four years ago. She now is a student ambassador for Higher Orbits and shares her love for space with her social media following.

“I am currently studying aerospace engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder, I would not be able to say this sentence if I had not attended my first Go For Launch! event in 2017,” stated Abi Youngker, who was a part of the Saguaro Snakes, the winning team of the Orbital ATK Series. “I have been given skills like public speaking, time management, and even the confidence to network in the aerospace community all thanks to Higher Orbits.”

While Youngker, McCord, and Fehr all find themselves gravitating toward the engineering fields, Goel shared a unique perspective. Team DASA was the inaugural winning Go For Launch! team back in 2016. Now, Goel is the Founder and CEO of Venture Health Studio LLC and an MD Candidate at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“I am honored and filled with gratitude to represent Higher Orbits in such a setting,” shared Goel about his time at ASCEND. “For me, it is a small way that I can give back to an organization that has continued to have profound impacts on my life from professional to personal.”

After our student panelists shared their Higher Orbits journey, another panelist and huge STEM for students advocate Astronaut Greg H. Johnson explained the importance of opportunities like GFL! at such an impactful age of a student’s academic career.

Astronaut Greg H Johnson working with the students at our 2018 Go For Launch! Durham event!

Johnson is a decorated fighter pilot, test pilot and Astronaut. He flew as the Pilot of STS-123 and STS-134 (the final flight of Endeavour) and has completed nearly 500 orbits of Earth. During his panel appearance, he recalled the importance of his experience with GFL! and what it meant to him to be a part of it.

“Michelle built a network, and you might have noticed, these students don’t go away. They join the network for life. Really, she is changing the world, one kid at a time, times 1500. I mean look at these students. Look at what they are going to do with their lives,” said Johnson as he gestured to the student panelists. “And how important that is to all of us as an industry… this is the work force of tomorrow!”

About the author

Katy Thompson was introduced into the space scene in 2020 when she began working with Higher Orbits as a Communications Intern. Since then, she has graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University with her B.S. in Communications and a minor in business administration. Thompson holds the position of Communications Director for Higher Orbits and enjoys using that position to help connect students with Higher Orbits programs, educational resources, and all things space.

Katy Thompson


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