An undergraduate student is parlaying her experience in designing and building space instruments to create workshops for blind high school and college students so they can gain the hands-on training needed to excel in science and engineering careers.
Jamie Principato, a physics major, is part of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium (COSGC), a NASA-funded initiative that gives students at Colorado institutions, primarily undergraduates, a chance to design, build and fly space instruments and experiments. Blind from birth, she took courses in math and science and participated in COSGC activities while at Arapahoe Community College in Littleton, Colorado, before transferring to CU Boulder in 2015.
“I started realizing that when I actually pursue what I want to, the challenges I face because of my vision are not as insurmountable as I thought they would be,” she explains. “It is definitely easier to overcome these challenges when I’m doing something I really care about.”
Principato recently developed a project called BLAST, which involves hands-on workshops for visually impaired high school and college students focused on providing a solid background in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Her first workshop, coming up in June, will involve both electronics and the art of soldering.
In order to continue to offer her workshops, Principato recently applied for a $25,000 grant known as the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition administered by the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a nonprofit group in San Francisco.
All entrants were asked to make a 90-second video about their proposals, including goals they plan to achieve. The entrant receiving the most YouTube "likes" automatically qualifies for the finals. Principato's video can be seen (and liked, by clicking on the thumbs-up button) here.
Principato’s first COSGC project was in 2014, when she was the lead scientist at Arapahoe Community College on an experiment to be mounted on a high-altitude balloon to measure radiation emanating from space. The balloon was successfully launched to the edge of space (about 62 miles high) from Colorado’s eastern plains.
I want all students with disabilities like mine to have the opportunity to learn from hands-on experiences in STEM like I did,” she says.
Headquartered at CU Boulder and funded by NASA, COSGC is a statewide organization involving 21 colleges, universities and institutions around Colorado that give students access to space through innovative coursework, real-world, hands-on experience in telescope and satellite programs and interactive outreach programs.
COSGC is one of 52 space grant consortiums in the nation and is one of the most active. Since 1989, over 6,000 students have been directly involved in COSGC’s hands-on space hardware programs. To date, COSGC has launched three sounding rockets, three space shuttle payloads, four orbiting satellites, 10 sounding rocket payloads and more than 1,000 high-altitude balloon payloads.