The sky may not even be the limit for Brandon K. Hedgepeth, a 2020 Telecom graduate, Old Dominion University student, and Telecom intern who has participated and excelled in programs offered by the Virginia Space Grant Consortium.
According to its website, the Virginia Space Grant Consortium is "a coalition of five Virginia colleges and universities, NASA, state educational agencies, Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, and other institutions representing diverse aerospace education and research."
The National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program was created by the U.S. Congress in the late 1980s to encourage STEM study and prepare a high tech workforce, two things that were in decline at the time.
VSGC offers STEM scholarships, internships, K-12 student programs, and more.
As a great example of a VSGC program participant working in a STEM field, Hedgepeth was recently video-recorded for the VSGC's “Next Steps in STEM” video series. According to the VSGC, the series "highlights participants of VSGC programs who have taken their next steps in STEM. They are the next generation of the STEM workforce and Virginia’s best and brightest."
Hedgepeth was interviewed for the video at the NNPS Telecommunications Center, and there are shots of the Telecom facility, as well as instructors, students, and the remote production TV truck.
Hedgepeth first learned about the VSGC program from a poster he saw at school. At the time, he was a student at Crittenden Middle School, which is Newport News Public Schools' STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) magnet school.
He has enjoyed participating in a variety of different programs since those middle school years. They include: STEM Exploratory Saturdays (two years), Building Leaders for Advancing Science and Technology (BLAST), Virginia Earth Systems Science Scholars (VESSS), and VESSS Summer Academy.
VESSS is a "very intensive program," according to Hedgepeth, and the one he enjoys most. Students from all over Virginia create a project/mission, do the research, and present it to representatives from NASA, industry professionals, educators, and the like. Participants earn college credit for the VESSS and VESSS Summer Academy programs.
VESSS Summer Academy participants also get to hear from outstanding mentors from NASA, who talk about their jobs and career paths. A highlight for Hedgepeth was participating in a session with "Hidden Figure" Dr. Christine Darden and being able to ask her a question.
Hedgepeth appears in a program video about the VESSS Summer Academy, too, where he comments about how inspiring Dr. Darden's talk was.
After participating in the program, Hedgepeth served as a volunteer VESSS Program Ambassador. Later, was encouraged to apply for an internship, and became Lead Intern for the VESSS Summer Academy last summer.
The National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program was created by the U.S. Congress in 1988 following the success of similar scholarship opportunities in the oceanic Sea Grant and agricultural Land Grant fields. Its purpose was to encourage STEM study and prepare a high-tech workforce. In 1989, the program was given over to NASA.
Through these various VSGC opportunities, Hedgepeth has been able to explore and learn at Thomas Nelson Community College, Canon Virginia, Inc., and NASA Langley Research Center; spend half a week focused on STEM at ODU; and participate in mission challenges with students from all over the state, all while a young teenager.
Staying in a dorm on ODU's campus after just finishing eighth grade was a new and exciting experience. "It was amazing for me," Hedgepeth said, but added that it also turned out to be ironic. He is now an ODU student himself and was to live in that same dorm, but because of COVID-19, decided to be a "virtual" student.
Hedgepeth credits the VSGC programs with allowing him to earn college credits (he is an advanced junior despite just graduating from high school in 2020), expanding his horizons in STEM, and giving him access to learn from top mentors.
He highly recommends the programs and hopes to spread the word about them. He has even encouraged General Assembly members, members of Congress, and their legislative aides to continue funding the VSGC and its programs.
Setting their sights high is nothing new for NASA or Hedgepeth - and by taking every opportunity that arises to expand his knowledge and experience, Hedgepeth has prepared himself for a very bright future.