Alumni Stories: The NASA L’Space Program & The NPWEE Academy

James Rau ’22 is a Denison alum who majored in Physics and minored in Astronomy. He is currently at George Mason University working on his Master’s in Applied Engineering. During the Spring 2024 semester, James participated in NASA L’Space’s NASA Proposal Writing and Evaluation Experience (NPWEE) Academy. He wanted to share his experience in the academy with me and other Denisonians.

What is the NASA L’Space Program?

The NASA L’SPACE Program is a free, online, interactive experience open to undergraduate STEM students interested in pursuing a career with NASA or other space organizations. 

L’SPACE consists of two Academies – the Mission Concept Academy, and the NASA Proposal Writing and Evaluation Experience Academy. Students may participate in one Academy per semester. Each 12-week Academy is designed to provide unique, hands-on learning and insight into the dynamic world of the space industry. Students can expect to learn NASA mission procedures and protocols from industry professionals as they collaborate with fellow team members to complete mission-related team-projects.

The information above is provided by NASA L’Space. More information on the program and its academies can be found on their website.

James’ NPWEE Experience 

The NPWEE Academy aims to give its participants the skills and experience to brainstorm, craft, and hopefully execute their proposals. The winning proposal will get access to a $10,000 grant that will be used to bring this idea into reality as they start implementing the plan they outlined in the program proposal. James mentioned that the winner may also get a free Marshall Space Flight Center tour with their team. There were 30 teams of 10 people (300 people total) participating in this academy, and only one team could receive the research grant at the end of the program. The team assignment was a mix of graduate and undergraduate students. James and his group had to brainstorm ideas focused on new technologies that had yet to be developed by companies and provided a substantial benefit to NASA’s missions in the future. These ideas had to be supported by subject matter experts. These experts could be someone working at NASA or someone outside the organization, such as a Denison professor or a professor from another university. In the NPWEE Academy, teams were provided with contact information of NASA experts, who assisted in their research and fine-tuning their ideas. 

James and his team considered six ideas; only one could be submitted to represent their team. During this time, he and his team had to spend the next 4-5 weeks researching the ideas further to create an official proposal that went in front of two peer review panels, a panel of NASA reviewers, and a panel of academy participants. The results were tabulated from there to select the winner of the research grant. Typically, only one proposal is chosen, but three were selected to move forward at the conclusion of James’ most recent academy. Unfortunately, his team’s idea was not selected. 

Even though the results did not go how he wanted, he saw this as a fantastic opportunity to channel his creativity and passion for STEM and learn how projects come to fruition behind closed doors. He appreciated that he was able to experience this process and see how to do these things in a professional setting. After completing the program, James now has a certification of completion from the academy alongside a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) certificate. Now that the academy is finished, James may participate in NASA L’Space’s Mission Concept (MCS) Academy this fall as he continues to complete his master’s program.

Have Questions? Want to Connect? Reach Out to James!

James said he is happy to connect with students and answer any questions. Reach out via LinkedIn

By Blake Gooch
Blake Gooch Assistant Director - Technology, Data & Science Career Community