The space race is expected to become a $2.7 trillion powerhouse, yet companies can’t find enough people for rocket science and system engineering jobs. 

Base-11,  a nonprofit group which teaches people to think beyond decimals, sets students on direct pathways to four-year degrees, jobs, and start-ups with hands-on training in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

Recently, a  donor gave a $1.5 million grant to Base-11 to foster career development with aerospace departments at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

The initiative was announced at the annual gathering of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, also known as The Boulé, the oldest African American fraternity with more than 5,000 members across 134 chapters.

“Sigma Pi Phi is honored to support the next generation of aerospace talent, and ensure young African Americans are part of the commercial space race,” said Wes Coleman, president of Sigma Pi Phi. “We are proud to count among our members the leaders of many HBCUs and of Base-11, and look forward to working together.”

The grant to increase the numbers of African Americans in the commercial space industry comes just weeks after the announcement of the Base-11 Space Challenge, a $1 million competition for a student-led team to build and launch a liquid fuel rocket to the edge of space.

The Base-11 Space Challenge was announced June 6 at Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum, where youth in South Los Angeles can learn everything from piloting aircraft to building rockets.

NASA Astronaut Leland Melvin headlined the event that drew leaders from aerospace, government and academia as well as student rocket team members.

“The African American workforce and entrepreneurial community was largely left behind by the tech boom in Silicon Valley, and we don’t want to see the same thing happen with commercial space,” said Landon Taylor, chief executive officer of Base-11.

“This grant will equip an HBCU with the seed capital and human capital needed to build a student rocketry program that can work in concert with industry to develop in-demand aerospace talent and launch new innovations that will harness space as the new frontier,” Landon said.

Base-11 will fund a grant to one HBCU to develop a hands-on rocket program, create a liquid-fuel rocket lab, as well as recruit and hire aerospace faculty to head the development of a liquid fuel program within its engineering school.

“We hope that this is just the first of several grants, and that more partners will step forward to establish and support aerospace education at HBCUs,” said Dwayne Murray, who leads Sigma Pi Phi’s committee on HBCUs.

Interested HBCUs will be able to apply for the grant beginning August 2018. The grant recipient is expected to be selected by the end of fall.

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