Fayetteville State University Students’ NASA Experience Leads to Potential Business

FSU computer science students Jonathan Soltren, Khali Crawford, Deneen Royal, Antwaun Tune, and Grace Vincent are back on campus after spending the summer working with NASA.
Date: September 07, 2022

FSU Students & Professor @ the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

(pictured from left to right): Jonathan Soltren, Khali Crawford, Deneen Royal, Antwaun Tune, Grace Vincent and Professor Sambit Bhattacharya gather at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Fayetteville, N.C. (September 07, 2022) - A group of Fayetteville State University (FSU) computer science students are back at school after spending the summer working with NASA and are working to create a small business. What’s more, they are taking their experiences to the next level, advancing their work on Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies and potentially marketing it for commercial use.

The students, studying under Sambit Bhattacharya, Ph.D., FSU professor of computer science, participated in NASA’s first Minority Serving Institutions Space Accelerator program over the summer. The students and Bhattacharya spent 10 weeks with global aerospace accelerator Starburst receiving hands-on coaching and business advice. They were also encouraged to think and act like a startup business, receiving funding, training and mentorship to help market their work.

The team’s project, titled “Autonomous Systems with On-Demand Inference from Perception Pipelines,” improves the execution of AI software programs designed to solve technical challenges in earth observation systems like processing and sending data from satellites through the downlink to earth-based computers.

“Our time in California was an exceptional experience, allowing the students to understand how research is commercialized to produce advanced technology for the aerospace industry, for NASA’s mission of observing earth from space, and the exploration of space,” Bhattacharya said. “After our return to campus we are discussing options for forming the startup and creating strategies to pursue grants and contracts available from NASA and other federal agencies.”

The students agree they are already benefiting from the experience.

“This summer experience supplemented my studies and research in ways that I didn't know were needed,” said Grace Vincent, FSU graduate and current doctoral student at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C. “We studied a lot of business and entrepreneurship strategies, information technology and AI. We even learned how to give pitches to different audiences, including technologists and venture capitalists, and how these different audiences require a different depth of knowledge as well as customized material. It allowed me to become a more well-rounded software developer and researcher.”

“The experience of seeing people in my field of study doing amazing things and answering some of science’s largest questions like, ‘Is there life on Mars?’ was really inspiring and motivating,” said Antwaun Tune, FSU senior. “I’m using the experience as a wake-up call to work even harder. I want to be the one giving the tour to the next generation of computer scientists.”

“Through my research with the Intelligent System Lab, I can apply actual coding lessons from coursework to work like the accelerator,” said Khali Crawford, FSU senior. “Likewise, I can apply the skills I learned from my work with the accelerator to improve what I get out of my classes.”

“My work now consists of senior projects and outreach, and they helped me improve interactions with my classmates and team members for deeper insight into their goals for our work, so I can be more successful,” said FSU senior Deneen Royal.

“This experience inspired me to do more,” said FSU senior Jonathan Soltren. “I think the greatest benefit was being able to spend time in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and learn the process of proposal selection. I hope to write more proposals in the future and the insight they gave was very helpful.”

The team received a $50,000 prize for their initial concept and is now positioned to compete for future awards and to create a limited liability corporation as part of the program.

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