“It started out as a joke. The students at Northwest Indian College on the Lummi Reservation near Bellingham were launching little rockets made from recycled water bottles as a way to do some hands-on science. Computer science teacher Gary Brandt says calling it a space center was just something one of the students came up with.” J. McNichols, KUOW.org
Excerpt: Why NASA Called The Northwest Indian College Space Center By Joshua McNichols- KUOW
“And he said, I called us the Northwest Indian College Space Center. And I said, OK, let’s do that. That’s kind of grandiose. Let’s really play it up. The joke was funny because this was just a tiny, two-year college, with no engineering program.
Getting into space was the last thing on the minds of these students; they were just trying to escape poverty. Next thing they knew, NASA was calling them up. It was beyond their wildest dreams. Christian Cultee, a student there, grew up nearby. My uncle runs a fish hatchery up here, Cultee said. My biggest fear here, my whole life, was just kind of being trapped here on the reservation. At Northwest Indian College, they stumbled into another passion – launching pressurized water-bottle rockets for fun.
Every time someone launched a rocket, students gathered to watch. They read online about more advanced rocketry programs in other schools, but those programs were really expensive. One day, teacher Gary Brandt broke down and bought three rocket kits anyway. Not long after their first real rocket launch, Brandt got a phone call – from NASA…NASA would give them $5,000 a year for three years. It was enough to get them to take themselves seriously. The students began entering competitions. Each year, NASA organized a different challenge.
That resourcefulness, borne out of poverty, has helped the Northwest Indian College Space Center outperform some schools with far greater resources. That gumption is what caught NASA’s attention. Now people are starting to take the space program at the Northwest Indian College seriously.”
“It’s just an amazing feeling for me to see the look of competence…The look of self-esteem. And when I see them talking with these big engineering graduate-level students from Vanderbilt and these things on an absolutely equal basis – you can see how it makes me feel.” Computer science teacher and space center leader ~Gary Brandt~