The ISGC regretfully announces the passing of R. Ganesh Rajagopalan on March 19, 2021, a valued member of the Aerospace Engineering faculty at Iowa State University. Dr. Ganesh was funded by the ISGC under the research innovation program as recently as 2018. Details from the department are available here: Ganesh Rajagopalan.
SoapyCilantro: A Hands-On Introduction to Genomics 2021-2022 STEM Scale-Up Program
The SoapyCilantro project aims to address the lack of trained personnel in the area of genomics and precision medicine, the future of human health care. Using genomic concepts, the SoapyCilantro program demonstrates how minor differences in human genes can affect traits and how this applies to the area of precision medicine.
In this Iowa-grown program, students isolate and analyze their own DNA in the classroom. Students taste fresh cilantro leaves and note down the taste: Spicy, mild spicy or soapy. They collect their own buccal (cheek) cells, purify genomic DNA, amplify their gene responsible for cilantro taste and detect their genotype. Students correlate their genetic and taste-test results and discuss implications of genetic variations to human health using this innocuous ‘cilantro taste’ human trait.
The SoapyCilantro idea started as one of those Friday afternoon experiments which has now grown into a state-wide STEM scale-up program sponsored by the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council.
“This has been possible only because of the hard work of a few bright students in my laboratory and the financial support we received from the Iowa Space Grant Consortium to develop the curriculum and the companion kit for genomics education,” Dr. Pramod Mahajan, Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Science at Drake University said.
“As the world struggles to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath, the need for facile and fun projects capable of attracting younger students to STEM education is felt even more acutely. Our SoapyCilantro project has that capability. I fervently believe, with additional support and time, this project will grow into a nationwide movement and fulfil that promise.”
Contact the team and find more information: https://www.drake.edu/cphs/soapycilantro/
Adam Cupp grew up in Boone, Iowa and commuted every day to Iowa State in order to complete his degree in Engineering Applications.
“I have always loved airplanes and knew I wanted to study Aerospace Engineering when I was 12 years old.”
Cupp began volunteering in Boone with the NASA Iowa Space Grant Consortium’s ISAT (Iowa Satellite) program in the Spacecraft Systems and Operations Lab (SSOL) when he was in seventh grade. He continued volunteering there until the successful flight of the Iowa Joint Experiments in Microgravity Solidification (IJEMS) project aboard NASA’s Space Shuttle Endeavour, flight STS-69 in September 1995. The student crew drove an RV down to the integration center in Houston, Texas so they could finish the project on the way. When he attended Iowa State, he rejoined the SSOL and worked his way up to become a student manager of the High Altitude Balloon Experiments in Technology (HABET) project.
Cupp’s first job was with Lockheed Martin and he worked in operations. He was hired because of the significant experience he had with hands-on operations with the HABET program. Since graduating from Iowa State, he has worked in several different disciplines. He has performed Satellite Operations, Logistics Analysis, Life Cycle Cost Analysis, Systems Engineering, and currently works in Cybersecurity Engineering and Architecture.
“I retool and earn new certifications about every three years to stay current with new trends and foresee that to continue. I am working now to earn my CISSP-ISSEP certification.”
Adam Cupp at the Ft. Worth F-16 and F-35 Photo Day
After 20 years, Associate Director Jay Staker is retiring from the NASA Iowa Space Grant Consortium (ISGC).
When he started at ISGC, Staker was the Assistant Director for Education and focused on the precollege outreach programs for ISGC. This position evolved into an Associate Directorship and his job was to help administer the daily operations, proposal development and report with the precollege outreach program. Throughout his 20 years, he has also served as the Interim Director for ISGC multiple times.
Over the years, Staker’s main role has been developing and delivering NASA-related STEM programming for ISGC.
“I cannot separate out a favorite part of this job as far as the work I do. I have enjoyed most of the work along the way and especially appreciate the variety of work I get to do. It’s the people that I have worked with that have brought me the most satisfaction. In Iowa, with other Space Grants, and at NASA, I have had the privilege to serve some fantastic directors and work with great teams that have led to some long lasting friendships. I have learned so much from my colleagues and hope that I have contributed things of value as well.”
At this stage of his career, Staker draws great satisfaction from well-crafted proposals and reports that tell the story of Iowans as it relates to his work with NASA.
“We have a great story to tell. I have also had so many rewarding experiences in working with youth in STEM. Seeing the ‘aha’ moment is amazing. We also have been able to offer assistance to faculty and students and watching them grow and succeed is truly an enriching experience. With COVID, I miss having the opportunity to visit with our clients and offer assistance in their STEM path.”
Staker believes ISGC is a valuable player in the Iowa economy and the development of our current and emerging STEM workforce. Jay says that Iowa’s need for a skilled workforce that can advance STEM in Iowa or at NASA is critical for our economy. The ISGC also helps the STEM workforce get established and provide payback to Iowa’s economy.
“If you walk through the Johnson Space Center or Marshall Space Flight Center and ask the employees where they went to school, you will find a large number of Iowans who are now shaping our future endeavors in space science and exploration. ISGC also brings the inspiration of Space to Iowans of all ages and experiences and instills a love of STEM and exploration.”
Early on in Staker’s career with ISGC, he worked with the Johnson Space Center to develop a program that connected Iowa youth with NASA astronauts that were in space. The children were able to ask live questions to astronauts in space. They also had an astronaut visit Iowa and worked with the groups at the Iowa State Center. This program was set up by ISGC’s educational partners, Iowa Public Television, NASA, and a digital communication network that Iowa developed early on in the digital age. The program reached Iowan’s all over the state and demonstrated the value of bringing teams together to accomplish what seemed to be impossible at the time.
“Some of my favorite memories are related to taking teachers to NASA centers for on-site professional development provided by NASA scientists and engineers. These trips were the beginning of many great long-term partnerships that advanced our work with NASA. Sitting in the mission control that took us to the moon was unbelievable to a small-town Iowa boy whose life was concurrent with NASA. Sitting in those chairs was surreal and brought such vivid memories of our mission to reach the moon and watching Neal Armstrong set foot on the moon. Another amazing result of working with ISGC is being able to walk into the Science Center of Iowa, The Putnam Museum, The Grout Museum District, or National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium and feel like I was at home. Such amazing partners have supported my work along the way and I can never fully explain how rewarding it is to work with such amazing STEM educators that give so much.”
In regards to retirement, it is not a concept Staker struggles with.
“I don’t want to quit working on such amazing projects with even more amazing people. Hopefully, I can slow down a bit but continue to contribute to STEM in Iowa. One thing I look forward to with additional time is to be able to take my wife to all the amazing places I have been able to visit along my career pathway. Perhaps I can get back to Kennedy Space Center to see a launch of Artemis as we return to the moon. I also hope to be able to write more.”
“These 20 years have flown by and I am so thankful to have what I consider to be the best job anyone can have. The joy of making a difference with such amazing people is such a great reward. Leaving the current ISGC team is a tough step to take. ISGC has the best team anyone could ever have the privilege of working with. I am grateful for the experiences and am so thankful for all the people I have been able to connect with along the way. It’s been a great ride.”
Jay and his wife, Dea, on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center, October 2005.