Local Hero Of The Week: This Engineer is Propelling Kids Into New Heights Through Rocket Science
Teaching kids is a bit like rocket science.
At least that’s true for Frank Miuccio who teaches rocketry to kids in Watts, Compton, and Boyle Heights, through the Reaction Research Society, an educational rocket science non-profit organization.
It all started four years ago when the LAPD’s Community Safety Partnership approached the RRS Vice President to start a science program in the area. At the time, there were a lot of avenues of sports but few projects to teach kids about science.
He started teaching a 30 kids from 4th, 5th, and 6th grade in a community center, keeping the class sizes small for more one-on-one accessibility. It was through these two-week, five-days-a-week classes throughout the year that students learned how to build and fix rockets.
“For them, it was number one, learning the science, learning something different, seeing how they were scientists in day to day life.”
Then they would launch them in the grand expanse of the Mojave Desert at the RRS launch site, with rockets shooting up about one to two miles high into the sky.
“You build it, and you haven't seen it until you push the firing button and your rocket takes off and you're really excited at that point. So they really thought it was great, the best day of their lives.”
For many it’s also an experience to travel somewhere new.
“A lot of the kids from Watts, they haven't been to the desert," Miuccio said. "So that was like a big trip for them just to go into the desert and being out in somewhere different than they've been.”
While the kids get to travel, they also experience a precursor to the collaborative college environment.
“We're pushing the students to work as teams because as they get into high school and college, a lot of that academic [work] is teams. So the more they learn when they're younger, it's easier for them to transition in the future.”
When the pandemic hit,, Miuccio had to make a few adjustments.Instead of working on one rocket together, the kids built their own individual model rockets, which meant more one-on-one attention from staff.
Miuccio didn't get his start in rocketry as early as these kids though. He was initially a pre-med student who pivoted to computer science in college. It was afterwards, when he became an electronic engineer, that he was introduced to rockets while working on aircraft (and the Space Shuttle!).
He then began working with the Reaction Research Society in the 1980s.
Now Frank is passing along his love of science to an array of students who may have never considered the path of rocketry.
One of Frank’s most notable students was a bit older than the average 6th grader—a grandmother. She participated in the class with her granddaughter over the seven weeks.
She even joined the team in Mojave for the rocket launch, which was a bonding experience for her and her granddaughter.
There was another student in the classes who was getting decent grades. She applied for a scholarship for a private grade school. During her interview for the scholarship she elaborated on the rocket-building class and all the process.
“She mentioned all that during their interview and she ended up getting a scholarship. And now she's like a straight-A student, and her favorite topic is astronomy, and she wants to get into science.”
Building rockets, however, comes with a lot of failure. But Frank says: it’s good.
“Te best things about rocketry is actually when you have a failure, you really dig into it, why they fail, what can be done better and stuff like that.”
Sometimes Frank has to guide the kids through their disappointment.
“If something doesn't work, they kind of get bummed. And then I sit there and I really talk to them one-on-one. I go, okay ‘Let's get this. Why didn't it do it? What can we learn from it?’ “
It’s through the program that Frank shows that the best part of rocket science isn't just the launch, but the teamwork and knowledge cultivated for several weeks.
For now, Frank is teaching kids that rocket science can expand their horizons–their minds.