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TMCNet:  Grand Forks Herald Ryan Bakken column

[March 10, 2013]

Grand Forks Herald Ryan Bakken column

Mar 10, 2013 (Grand Forks Herald - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- When you look back on your college learning experience, do you mostly recall countless hours in theater seats in a lecture hall, trying not to nod off as a professor droned Me, too.

There's still some of that. But much has changed. There may not any better example of the education shift than a collaborative effort at UND that has included about 200 students and 20 faculty advisers working toward sending a satellite into outer space.

And most of them are doing it just for the experience. Not for credits. Not for money. Not for prestige, although that will happen if they're successful, beefing up everyone's resume in the process.

The big motivation is the fun of it.

"Sending something up in space How cool of a college experience is that " said Joe Vacek, an aerospace professor who is one of the advisers. "Something like this takes education up a notch.

"It's not just a science experiment. It's to see if they can work together with other teams." Christoffer Korvald is a computer science major from Norway who is working toward a master's degree. He's fascinated by the teamwork of students who are from a wide range of studies.

Aerospace majors, as you'd suspect, are among those working on the project. But so are majors in business, computer science, entrepreneurship, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and more. All are welcome.

"Working together, this is a real-world experience," Korvald said.

"Our goal is not only to create a satellite to put into space, but also to create an open framework for other universities or groups to build a satellite and send it into space," he said.

The first semester was spent writing software code and planning. This semester, they're building it.

UND's satellite may not be like you picture it. It is cube-shaped, 4 inches on each side. The entire budget is $5,000.

"The components are all off the shelf," Vacek said, referring to the likes of Best Buy and Amazon.

The satellite will carry a camera. Still undetermined is what it will be photographing. Vacek said there's a wide range of options from space -- including the likes of the polar cap, weather patterns and the light from gas flares in the western North Dakota oil fields.

However, there's also a chance it could be a flop.

"We're not even sure if the camera will point at Earth," Vacek said. "It might go wrong.

"But, in either case, it will be a learning experience." --- Call Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1125; or send email to

___ (c)2013 the Grand Forks Herald (Grand Forks, N.D.) Visit the Grand Forks Herald (Grand Forks, N.D.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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