D211 Post: Conant Students Hear from Perseverance Engineer

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            Students in an Advanced Placement Physics class at James B. Conant High School and District 54’s Einstein Elementary had the chance to hear from Mieszko Salamon, an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab who worked on the Perseverance Rover through a program from Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi’s office April 8.  During the 30-minute program, Salamon discussed his background, work on the rover, and took questions from Krishnamoorthi and students.

            Salamon, a Chicago area native, began the program by playing the video footage of Perseverance landing on Mars.  He then told students of his background including becoming interested in robotics while in high school, then discussed becoming a member of the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL).  He noted that JPL is the only organization to land on Mars.

            When asked by Krishnamoorthi about the need to study Mars, Salamon said, “Mars is very interesting.  It can teach us so much about our own planet.”

            He then explained how, over the course of the next few years, JPL and NASA have plans to collect and recover soil and rock samples from Mars to further study the planet. 

            Following this discussion, Salamon took questions from students from both Conant High School and Einstein Elementary.

            Junior Gracie Rodriguez asked Salamon if he had advice for students who were considering a future in engineering.

            “Start learning about engineering while you are in high school,” he told her.  “But, don’t focus on one specific area just yet.  Work with as many mechanisms and fields as you can first.”

            Rodriguez said that she found his response relieving. 

            “I appreciated him telling us that we don’t need to know 100% what we want to do yet,” she said.  “I feel a little less pressure on myself to decide what I want to do.”

            When asked by an Einstein Elementary student what students their age could do, Salamon said to start learning coding early.

            “I use coding every day,” he said.  “I think, in 20 years, coding will be just as essential as knowing how to use Microsoft is today.”

            Casey Kelley, a Junior at Conant High School asked Salamon about problem solving strategies.

            “First, try to find the answer yourself,” Salamon told him.  “If you can’t work it out, go to your team.  We have a lot of responsibilities and we have to make sure we do things right.  We need to make sure we are teaching kids that teamwork is crucial.”

            Kelley said it was interesting to hear how skills used in class carry over to real-world situations.

            “In order to solve a problem, in physics or in another application, rather than an equation or formula you need a strategies and creative thinking,” he said.   “I thought it was interesting that many of those same strategies we use in class could be applied at NASA, a great example of science being universal and how you build upon what you learn in school.”