Collaboration the Key to Success for TARC National Champions

At Odle Middle School, rocketry is so popular that earning a spot in the Bellevue, W.A. school’s rocketry club means winning the lottery – literally.

At the beginning of each school year the club’s coaches, Brendan Williams and Jim Petoskey, hold a drawing to select new students. That’s where the luck stops and the hard work begins. Over the next nine months, the teams design, build and launch rockets to the rigorous parameters of AIA’s Team America Rocketry Challenge.

This year, that hard work paid off when two teams from Odle qualified for the TARC National Finals in Washington, D.C., and a third placed just outside of the top 100 teams in the country.

One of the Odle teams, the “Space Potatoes,” emerged as national champions and now will travel to London, courtesy of the Raytheon Company, to compete alongside the top rocketry teams from the U.K., France and Japan at the Farnborough International Airshow.

Mikaela Ikeda, Space Potatoes Team Captain, said of their experience at National Finals, “it felt like I was hovering five feet off the ground for the rest of the day.”

Karl Deerkop, Stephanie Han, Larry Jing and Sri Sakthinarayanan, the other members of the Space Potatoes team, echoed that sentiment in a recent interview with AIA. ‘Nervous, but excited’ seemed to be the prevailing feeling in advance of their trip to London.

“It’s a lot of pressure to represent the entire country,” said Mikaela.

The Space Potatoes are well-equipped to handle that pressure. After all, they just bested nearly 800 student rocketry teams from across the country, many of which were more advanced in both age and rocketry experience.

The Space Potatoes, and Odle’s other rocketry teams (the Space Beets and the Space Carrots), make up for a lack of experience by collaborating and sharing best practices between teams, something their coaches actively encourage.

“People gain the best solutions through diversity of thought, and in engineering, diversity of data,” said Jim Petoskey, the team’s Assistant Coach. “With each group launching rockets around 20 times, [the students] had 60 launches of data to guide [their] decisions at the national launch… more data meant more accurate results.”

“TARC is another example that when given space and opportunity, young people can collaboratively achieve amazing things,” said Brendan Williams, the team’s Coach. “These young people continually impress me with their ability to do challenging things.”

The collaborative spirit in Odle’s rocketry program brings pride to each of its members. Next month, when the Space Potatoes travel to London, it will also be an accomplishment for about a dozen more eager space veggies cheering them on back home.

The Raytheon Company’s sponsorship of the Team America Rocketry Challenge is part of a broader initiative known as MathMovesU, which helps inspire students to pursue expertise in science, technology, engineering and math, subjects known collectively as STEM. For more than a decade, Raytheon has sponsored the TARC national champions as they represent the United States in competitions abroad.