Spartans in Space

The Steward School
From inspiration to rocket launch 
Lourdes Olivencia ’27, Natalia Jimenez ’26, Xavier Nelson ’25, and Ana Reveles Leon ’24 have more than a few things in common. To begin with, they love The Steward School. The four are Robson Scholars: recipients of the Debbie Robson Merit Scholarship, which provides four years of full Upper School tuition to a rising ninth grader who is new to Steward. And the four share an out-of-this-world appreciation for space exploration. This summer, they celebrated the culmination of a collaborative effort when the experiment they designed was launched into space!

Over several months, the four friends teamed up to create an experiment for the Cubes in Space program, the only global STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) program for students 11-18.  Cubes in Space challenges students to design and propose experiments to launch into space on a NASA sounding rocket (a rocket used to conduct scientific experiments during suborbital flight). Applications undergo a rigorous process, and selected experiments are launched from NASA’s Wallop’s Island facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The experiment that Lourdes, Natalia, Xavier, and Ana designed was included in NASA’s June 20 rocket launch. 

The experiment aimed to use G-forces produced by the rocket to try to flip a switch that was contained in a tiny (4 cm x 4 cm) cube. 

"We used it [the G-forces] to send a data signal back to us that the switch had turned," said Lourdes. "We wanted the switch to turn on a vibrating motor, which would then mix up small vials of sand.”

Lourdes said the group’s weekly brainstorming sessions were always fun. “This type of work can be stressful, but being with friends makes it enjoyable,” she said. “We used each other’s ideas to build upon and we bounced ideas off each other.” 

Thinking Ahead 
“We hope that this experiment will inspire future generations of students to explore their interest in STEM,” said Lourdes. Xavier added, “We find it very impactful that four Robson Scholars worked together to formulate ideas and plan a project that we all can be proud of as we honor Mrs. Robson’s legacy.”

In the fall of 2024, Lourdes, Natalia, Xavier, and Ana will share their results with the school community. The team will also share the results of the space experiment with the Robson family and offer the returned cube as a gift to Mrs. Robson’s eldest grandson, Knox. “He is a young space enthusiast and was our inspiration for honoring his grandmother with a Cubes in Space project,” said Lourdes.

Inspired by STEM 
Before Ana and Lourdes joined the Steward community, they were two of 80 middle/high school students whose projects were flown as part of the Cubes in Space program. Their experiment was featured in a CBS 6 News video segment. Xavier, a member of Steward’s robotics team, participated in Virginia Tech's STEM Pre-College Initiative Program, conducting experiments while learning about STEM careers. In her ninth-grade physics class, Natalia built a mousetrap car and used STEM skills to calculate the distance it would travel powered only by the energy stored in the mousetrap. “We also made trebuchets by attaching an eraser to one end and calculating an accurate distance to place a cup where it would ultimately land,” she said. “I have always been amazed at how different components of STEM are seen and used in everyday life.”

The Debbie Robson Merit Scholarship
This prestigious scholarship honors Debbie Robson, associate head of school for community advancement, who died in 2014. Recipients are chosen based on academic distinction and extracurricular involvement in areas such as athletics, arts, innovation, or community service. Thanks to the opportunities that the Robson Scholarship offers, Lourdes, Natalia, Xavier, and Ana are deeply involved in the school community. 


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