Students and judges gather virtually for the final InSPIRESS presentation of the year.

For the 13th year, the Innovative System Project for the Increased Recruitment of Emerging STEM Students, or InSPIRESS, has provided high school students with the opportunity to experience “real world” engineering by developing and designing a scientific payload for a spacecraft designed by undergraduate students at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH). 

Founded in 2009 by Drs. P.J. Benfield and Matt Turner, InSPIRESS is an outreach project designed to prevent the turnover of undergraduate engineering students by pre-exposing them to the requirements of upper science and math programs. "Our theory was that if they could see the application, they wouldn't drop out," says Dr. Benfield. "So for them it's learning what college is about and what to prepare for."

This semester, in its second virtual year, InSPIRESS saw the participation of 281 high school students from nine schools, comprising 34 different teams. Each team was invited to design, manufacture, and fully qualify a scientific payload for a high-altitude balloon satellite (HABSat) over the course of 17 weeks to better understand engineering requirements, the design process, and the role a customer plays in design. Teams selected by the undergraduate engineering students in the Integrated Product Team (IPT) classes at UAH then went on to develop and lead community outreach activities and present their work to both the UAH Evaluation Board and a review board of aerospace professionals. 

The projects were assessed on three main components: the initial proposal, community outreach, and the final review, with winners being chosen for each of the categories. An overall winner was also selected based on the sum of all three components. 

The undeniable success of InSPIRESS can be measured by the growing number of alumni pursuing higher education at UAH. Through exposure to “real world” engineering, high school students are able to experience these different fields and what a career in STEM might mean for their future. "That's really the point," Dr. Turner says. "InSPIRESS gives young kids the confidence to pursue an advanced degree in a STEM field." 

InSPIRESS planning for the 14th year is already underway and plans to be back to an in-person event.