Reaching for the stars

Published 10:53 am Monday, October 3, 2011

PHS student  accepted into NASA Inspire program

By KATIE MCDOWELL / Lifestyles Editor

Pelham High School sophomore Lauren Riley recently was accepted into the NASA Inspire Engineering program.

NASA Inspire is a multi-tier, year-round program for high school students interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, according to its website.

Riley, 15, said she found out she was accepted into the program a few weeks ago.

“I love engineering and this is a great opportunity to further my knowledge of engineering,” she said.

NASA Inspire is an online community that is open only to the 4,900 students who were accepted into the program. Riley said it is “similar to Facebook,” and students are allowed to take quizzes, participate in projects and join group chats with professional engineers.

Riley first became interested in engineering several years ago when she attended the Girls Can camp in Alabama.

“The end of my seventh grade year I went to this girls construction camp and it had welding,” she said. “I really loved it. I’m a hands on person … That’s when I knew this is what I want to do.”

Riley attended the camp one other time as a camper and recently returned as a junior counselor.

Riley said she especially enjoys welding. She would like to attend the University of Alabama or Auburn University and study metallurgical engineering.

“Welding is my favorite thing of all time,” she said. “I think it’s the fact you can manipulate these two pieces of metal and make them stick together. You create this unbreakable bond.”

Next year, she plans to take a few engineering and welding classes at the School of Technology in Columbiana.

Until then, she has plenty of engineering activities to occupy her time. In addition to NASA Inspire, she is also a member of American Cast Iron Pipe Company (ACIPCO) Engineering Explorers, a Birmingham group that teaches high school students about engineering through classes, demonstrations, tours and competitions.

This is Riley’s second year in the group, and she said the number of participants has grown. While there aren’t any students from her own high school, she said she has enjoyed meeting other people her age who enjoy engineering – including the three other girls who are members.

“When you look at (the number of girls), it looks weird,” she said. “But it kind of raises my spirits knowing I’m not the only girl who wants to do engineering.”