6 teams of Seattle-area students competing in national finals of Team America Rocketry Challenge

Odle Middle School students from Bellevue , Wash., prepping a rocket for launch. (Twitter Photo via @OdleRocketry)

Six Seattle-area teams are among the 101 finalists who will compete in this weekend’s Team America Rocketry Challenge, the aerospace and defense industry’s flagship program designed to encourage students to study and pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association, middle and high-school-aged kids will compete in the national finals in Northern Virginia on Saturday for a chance at $100,000 in prizes and the right to represent the U.S. at the International Rocketry Challenge next month in Paris.

The teams from Eastside schools are:

  • Bellevue High School (two teams); advised by Daniel Dorsey.
  • Newport High School in Bellevue; advised by Jolyon Johnson.
  • Odle Middle School in Bellevue (two teams); advised by Brendan Williams.
  • International Community School in Kirkland; advised by Alexey Piterkin.

The teams represent six of the 830 teams that entered the competition from 46 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, this year’s competition requires a team to launch a rocket carrying three raw eggs that must reach an altitude of at least 856 feet before separating and returning the uncracked eggs to earth — all within 43 and 46 seconds, with strict height and weight requirements.

TARC is in its 17th year and Odle’s Williams has witnessed the success of his own team before, including in 2016 when eighth graders captured the top prize in Paris.

Williams has been at the school for 12 years. He started his career teaching science and now teaches all STEM electives, and his tech has evolved to include 3D printers, laser cutters and an entire shop for students to prototype their ideas. He started the rocketry club on a whim in 2014, calling it a Father’s Day gift gone crazy.

“TARC was the closest thing to perfection in teaching that I had run into and I immediately became a massive advocate,” Williams told GeekWire. “I have been collaborating with a wide range of people and organizations trying to find a model to expand the number of students engaged in TARC.  I personally want to do this full time … it is that good!”

Kids who participate in rocketry activities have one scheduled 45 minute meeting every week. But Williams said that once they start building and flying prototypes, they are constantly hanging around the STEM shop to get a little more work done. Launches occur on weekends and typically run for about four hours, and this season the group tallied 14 launches.

Two teams of seventh and eighth graders are headed east for the finals, including Guac Chaat and Space Paneer — seizing on a food theme that has been a tradition. The Newport and Bellevue High School teams that qualified all contain Odle alum, Williams said, adding that he’s proud that they have held onto the passion and have bringing the rocketry culture to those schools.

Williams said the Odle students are excited about qualifying and for the opportunity to compete. (Follow them on Twitter for updates).

“They know that Odle has a short but successful history with TARC and they are excited to continue that legacy. Plus they get to miss three days of school!” Williams said. “For me, the continued success of Odle Rocketry is validation that the TARC model is impactful and meaningful for students. Student directed, prolonged collaboration around a technical challenge that is conceptually easy but difficult in reality is an amazing model. I am smiling just thinking about it!”

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