Two Vandals Exploring New Frontiers
Sophie Milam is a few months into her HI-SEAS stay — during which time she’s used the U of I College of Engineering’s online Engineering Outreach program to finish her degree.
HI-SEAS crews live in a two-story, 36-foot-diameter geodesic habitat on an abandoned lava quarry on the northern slope of the Hawaiian island of Mauna Loa. Crews are largely confined to the “dome” but have the freedom to conduct activities outside the living habitat as long as they wear mock pressure-suits to simulate life in an unpressurized space environment.
Milam’s mission, Mission 3, is the longest to date and will last 273 days ending on June 15, 2015. Over the eight-month period, “mission support” researchers will continuously monitor the crew using surveillance cameras, body movement trackers and other methods to study the group’s cohesion over time, gathering data on a wide range of cognitive, social and emotional factors that may affect team performance.
“When I was 2, my mom took me to see the Space Shuttle as it piggy-backed on top of a modified Boeing 747. Ever since, my life’s goals have been focused on space.” Milam said.
While within the dome, Milam is conducting research on developing tensegrity robots. With training and funding the past two years through the College of Engineering’s Idaho Space Grant Consortium, Milam was able to intern with NASA Ames Research Center in California where she worked the past two summers with the NASA Tensegrity team and Intelligent Robotics Group. As Milam explains, tensegrity is the idea of designing structures, or in this case “soft” robots, where the working parts are either in pure compression or pure tension. The integrity of the structure depends on a jointless tension network, hence the term tensegrity.
Milam was recently chosen by Forbes Magazine as one of the publication’s Top 30 Under 30 in Science.
New frontiers are familiar for John Herrington and Sophie Milam, who are set to graduate from the University of Idaho on Dec. 13, 2016.
Herrington, who is earning his doctorate in education, has seen the Earth from space aboard the International Space Station as the first enrolled member of a Native American tribe to journey into space. Milam, who is earning her master’s in mechanical engineering, is currently participating in the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or HI-SEAS, a NASA project that simulates a long-duration Mars mission here on Earth.
With the experiences they’ve gained at U of I, Herrington and Milam are ready to keep exploring and conquering new challenges.
John Herrington is graduating as the first doctoral student in the new Indigenous Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (ISTEM) graduate program at U of I. The program aims at providing accessible, relevant, graduate-level education to Native Americans. Herrington’s ISTEM research — part of a doctorate in Adult/Organizational Learning and Leadership — looks at successful Native American students and attempts to identify key factors of success, including mentors, motivation and cultural influences.
“Native Americans are the least represented ethnic group in math and science in the U.S.,” Herrington has said. “A lot of research has been done on why students fail. What can make them successful is a harder question to answer, because very little research has been done on it. Instead of attacking the question again from the negative, I wanted to look at it from the positive.”
Herrington's work includes serving as an ambassador for the Chickasaw Nation, promoting math and science education on behalf of his tribe based in Oklahoma. In addition, he serves as the chairman of the board for the American Indian Institute for Innovation, a group developing new and more effective approaches to Native American education, with a particular focus on increasing Native American students’ success in STEM academics at the K-12 level.
“Being an astronaut gets you in the door with the kids,” Herrington said. “But if you really want to make a difference, you have to be able to say, ‘Here’s what the issues are, and here’s what the solutions are as I see them.’ You need the advanced degree. You need that credibility.”