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Sky is the limit for McAllen ISD graduate

NASA experience could prove invaluable in aerospace engineering studies

Getting robots to do what you want can be a tedious process.

Stephanie Frand should know. As a member of the Robotics Team at McAllen ISD’s Lamar Academy, the recent McAllen ISD graduate has helped engineer robots from Lamar to Johnson Space Center.

“This was our (Lamar team) first year in (robotics) competition so we had to build a robot from scratch,” she said. “So, we went through a long process to figure out what worked. Over the course of different competitions, we made modifications to the robot. So it was just kind of optimizing (the components). It’s kind of like a car with little wheels. It has to perform different tasks.”

Last summer, she earned a rare opportunity to spend a week at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. She was one of only about 200 students from Texas selected for the NASA High School Aerospace Scholars (HAS) program.

She and other students were put right to work. She was part of a team of about 10 which was tasked with designing different parts of a Mission to Mars.

“We had to develop a non-functioning prototype of that robot,” she said. “Something that could analyze a (Martian) rock. I was in charge of building it (the rover) and seeing what components would go where and how we could make efficient use of the space.”

In addition, she got hands-on experience with rocket construction.

“That was really cool,” she said.

She has been interested in engineering for several years but she credits her coursework in McAllen ISD’s International Baccalaureate Programme as getting her ready to handle opportunities like the one NASA provided.

“They’ve taught me to really think critically and reflect on what I’m learning,” she said of her IB courses. “It’s been really rigorous but well worth it.”

Students who earn the IB Diploma can receive at least 24 college credit hours at any state university in Texas.

Even as far back as elementary school, she can remember challenging work that has since paid off.

“I remember in elementary school, we would have to write reflections,” she said. “I didn’t enjoy it then but, looking back, I see how important it was to have that inner-dialogue.”

She will graduate fifth in her class of 481 (her home school is James “Nikki” Rowe High). She has decided to attend Texas A&M University and study Aerospace Engineering in the College of Engineering.

Part of her inspiration came from one of McAllen ISD’s more famous alumni — retired astronaut Michael Fossum (McAllen High ’76).

Frand saw him speak to students at Fossum Middle School a few years back. She took inspiration from his personal perseverance.

“I remember how he tried to become an astronaut and didn’t make it a number of times,” she recalled. “His determination was really inspiring. I was able to talk to him at NASA too. That was really neat.”

She plans to someday work for NASA or even Space X.

“I think going to Johnson Space Center last summer really solidified my interest,” she said.

McAllen ISD is a district of choice, offering STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math) in Pre-K-12, International Baccalaureate in grades 1-12, Advanced Placement courses, Career Technical Education in 15 career clusters where students earn professional licenses or certifications, four dual enrollment academies and an Early College High School where students can earn an Associate’s Degree before they graduate high school.

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McAllen ISD Community Information Intern Alexandra Robles contributed to this story.

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