6 Mid-Columbia seniors prepare for summer aerospace program

Summer camp for many youth involves camping and hikes in the woods. But for six Mid-Columbia high schoolers, it means rockets and robots.

The six students, hailing from the Tri-Cities as well as West Richland and Benton City, are among the 160 selected from across the state for this year's Washington Aerospace Scholars Summer Residency Program at Seattle's Museum of Flight.

The high schoolers will attend one of four sessions offered throughout the summer, participating in activities involving engineering and designing a human mission to Mars. The students said they were excited in the opportunity to learn and explore aerospace careers.

The local students are: Blake Hirschi of Kiona-Benton City High School, Jacob Ulbricht, a home-schooler from Kennewick, Alexandre Vetrano of Kennewick High School, Cheyenne Griffith of Three Rivers HomeLink, Avika Sharma of Delta High School and Cory Cleavenger of Hanford High School.

"This is a jump-start," said Ulbricht, 17. "I can make sure I will enjoy doing that job."

The program brings students to the museum for a weeklong visit to experience the various aspects of the aerospace industry, according to a release from the Washington Aerospace Scholars Program.

Participants will design, build and use robotic rovers, model rockets and other devices as well as take tours of Boeing's commercial airplane assembly plan, Aerojet's facilities in Redmond and the University of Washington's engineering labs. Room and board is provided to the students free of charge by the Washington Aerospace Scholars Foundation.

More than 280 students, all who will be seniors in the next school year, applied for the program. The application process included participating in an online learning curriculum designed by NASA and UW, with students being selected for a residency based on their scores.

Vetrano, who will attend one of the sessions in July, said he learned about the program from his chemistry teacher at Kennewick High. He said he has a really big interest in the aerospace industry and was excited to get some hands on experiencing with engineering.

"I hope to be a pilot," the 17-year-old said.

Hirschi said she will attend the program at the end of June. She said she's looking forward to working on a mock Mars mission the students will carry out, but that the program offers a lot beyond that.

"There's not a lot of opportunities at my school to learn about different areas of science," the 17-year-old said. "This was an attempt to discover more."

Students who will be juniors in the 2013-14 school year can begin applying for next summer's residencies. Applications are available and are due Nov. 8.