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The NASA L’SPACE Academy offers a free, online, interactive program for undergraduate STEM students interested in pursuing a career with NASA or other space organizations. The program creates a clear path between education and the STEM workforce by providing students with the industry-level practice they need to excel in their careers.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Lucy Student Pipeline Accelerator and Competency Enabler (L’SPACE) Program is a free technical workforce development program open to undergraduate science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students pursuing a career with NASA or other space-focused organizations. Created by the Arizona State University School of Earth and Space Exploration (ASU SESE), Southwest Research Institute’s Lucy Mission Team and funded by NASA, the program offers the opportunity to work with industry professionals in two different NASA STEM workforce development academies. Students learn procedures to complete mission-related team projects at the Mission Concept Academy (MCA). They also learn technical innovation techniques in the proposal writing and evaluation process at the NASA Proposal Writing and Evaluation Experience (NPWEE) Academy. Students may participate in one academy per semester, where they can expect to learn critical workforce development skills in addition to NASA mission processes, procedures and protocols.
The program is headquartered at the ASU Mars Spaceflight Facility on the main campus in Tempe, Arizona in the United States. It is an interactive, virtual, project-based program designed to provide unique, hands-on learning and insight into the dynamic space industry. To participate, students must be based in the United States, enrolled in an American college or university as an undergrad, have access to a smart device and the ability to devote six hours per week to team projects. “The idea behind the L’SPACE program was to have a mechanism in which we could offer STEM students a space that enables them to work in multi-disciplinary teams, have a chance to try out innovative ideas and push boundaries to optimize their concept design beyond their academic settings,” states Sheri Klug Boonstra, principal investigator of the NASA L’SPACE Academy at ASU.
NASA and other STEM industries are currently facing a growing number of retirements among their aging employees. This shrinkage of the STEM workforce makes it more critical to prepare the emerging workforce with industry-standard skills and knowledge. The goal of the L’SPACE Program is to provide focused technical training coupled with team-based project practice at scale to help decrease graduates’ onboarding time and to increase their value to industry in terms of gaining the capacity for staying on schedule and on budget with projects.
Additionally, the NASA L’SPACE Program has a prime goal of increasing the diversity, inclusion, equity and access in STEM fields alongside infusing and practicing the exploration mindset. This includes the acquisition and honing of important workforce skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, innovation, collaboration and communication.
The L’SPACE Program model works to provide equitable opportunities to all students who desire to gain relevant workforce skills. L’SPACE provides access to these skills with its online programs and is not dependent on who you know, where you live, or if you are already associated with a NASA program. To date, over 6,000 students have completed these rigorous academies and represent over 800 United States colleges and universities. In terms of diversity, 41 percent of L’SPACE students are students of color and 40 percent are female – both underrepresented groups in STEM. The L’SPACE retention/completion rate is over 90 percent. “Through L’SPACE, we re-imagined how we could teach all students in a hands-on way that enables them to apply the knowledge they gain from their disciplines and institutions to authentic challenges,” explains Klug Boonstra. We want them to gain the experience and confidence to help them realize that they have the capabilities, even as undergrads, to take off and start driving their careers.”
The NASA L’SPACE Academy has a critical partnership with Siemens Digital Industries Software to enable students to learn and become competent with some of its tools, including Simcenter ™ Nastran software and Teamcenter® software. These products are part of the Siemens Xcelerator portfolio, the comprehensive and integrated portfolio of software, hardware and services. This partnership enables the students to use these tools in real-world activities to prepare for STEM careers. The academy leverages this opportunity to train and deliver a more agile, prepared, diverse and inclusive workforce that is sure to meet the needs of the exploration ecosystem. “Our partnership with Siemens has opened up the world for our students, especially those who are virtual and may not have the software and mentoring available at their institution,” Klug Boonstra continues. “With Siemens’ tools, we can offer industry-standard CAD, which gives all students participating in our programs the skillset backbone to help them walk more robustly into industry positions.” The products are used in the virtual L’SPACE program and the ASU Space Works Program, which is for science, engineering and other STEM degree students doing in-person courses at ASU.
The instruction for both programs is led by Antonio Acuña, lead engineer for L’SPACE and ASU Space Works and Ian Kubik, spaceflight hardware engineer at ASU. Both engineers provide coaching on how Siemens’ tools are used in the industry, as they work on NASA flight hardware projects using these Siemens products for the Christensen Instrument Development Group at ASU. They also help to encourage a seamless transition from training to the STEM workforce, for the students.
In ASU Space Works 1, students learn modeling and drafting in NX and can attain the Siemens’ NX certification. For ASU Space Works 2, students receive more in-depth training and practice where they replicate an instrument lifecycle from design to fabrication to electronics and coding, then to vacuum testing to determine their results. Recently, the program has attained new Siemens’ licenses that dive into additive manufacturing. This enables their instructors to have a higher level of understanding prior to teaching the students. ASU Space Works 3 focuses on structural simulations using Simcenter Nastran They teach the processes of idealizing, meshing and running simulations. Finally, ASU Space Works 4 student projects are based on partnering with companies that have an actual need that requires modeling and simulation using Simcenter Nastran. The student teams use Siemens software and present solutions to the companies.
ASU wants to make sure they are training students in software that is implemented at top-level organizations in the L’SPACE exploration ecosystem. Siemens’ technology offers more functionality and expands the abilities of traditional computer-aided design (CAD) software that other colleges and universities offer. Additionally, Siemens provided asynchronous trainings for their tools and now the program has implemented live training sessions with an NX certified engineer who answers questions on the spot.
The L’SPACE and ASU Space Works programs are designed to intentionally reflect the acquisition and practice of skillsets that are needed in the STEM workforce by offering applied, rigorous, team-based opportunities using relevant, industry-based projects. L’SPACE has a direct line to Siemens, providing virtual, live and asynchronous training experiences to hundreds of students across the United States during each academy. The L’SPACE Program offers both MCA and NPWEE academies three times per year.
As a result of this training, hundreds of students are getting selected for internships and jobs right after going through the programs. Students have also stated their knowledge of NX has been an influential factor in getting them hired. It has played a crucial role in building the students’ self-confidence in creating their career pathway. As a result, they have gotten hired at NASA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX, Blue Origin and other aerospace companies.
“Working with Siemens has been instrumental in providing access and a more equitable way for students to receive an industry-standard level of technical training,” continues Klug Boonstra. “It really helps give the students the competency and acceleration in terms of getting them to be those preferred candidates.”
The programs are responsive to the needs of the exploration ecosystem and the training model and curriculum is fast-track iterative. Siemens has also been responsive in providing the tools needed to make these forward-leaning changes, which is why it plays a critical role in the students’ success. Over 200 students have been NX certified and 400 have requested to take the exam since the partnership started.
L’SPACE now has additional Siemens Xcelerator products in their program and is planning on developing training opportunities for these products as needed. Teamcenter has been introduced into ASU Space Works 2, 3 and 4 courses starting in the spring 2022 semester. The program has plans to expand the students’ training in Simcenter Nastran as well.
“Having the capability of working with young explorers and helping them gain skills and hone their curiosity into ways that will align with their career path is one of the best jobs in the world,” claims Klug Boonstra. “Our partnership with Siemens and their commitment to helping our students has made our job even better!”