Stellar Group Named to Advisory Board for Drake State Space Construction Research Program

A nine-member advisory board has been named to oversee Drake State Community  & Technical College’s new Frontiers Research Program.

The Frontiers Research  Program was established after Drake State was selected by NASA’s Marshall Space  Flight Center as a partner to develop 3D printing technologies to support the Artemis  mission

The Frontiers Advisory Board, made up of technical experts, NASA officials and  community leaders will provide guidance to the research team throughout the year long project. 

“NASA is calling on us to help develop construction techniques suitable for use on the  moon,” said Dr. Pat Sims, president of Drake State Community & Technical College. “Our advisory board has the expertise to help guide our efforts as we complete this  significant work.” 

In addition to the advisory board, the Frontiers Research team will be supported by  representatives from NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and ICON, a construction technologies company leading the 3D space construction research efforts for NASA. 

Drake State is the first community college and only Historically Black community college to receive a cooperative agreement award from Marshall’s CAN opportunity since its inception in 2013.

The Frontiers Research Program team – which consists of students, instructors and administrators from the college’s Engineering Design program  – will test 3D-printed concrete structures to help develop construction techniques for building landing pads, roads, and other large structures on the Moon. 

Frontiers Research Program Advisory Board Members 

Joe Fitzgerald – Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army for Alabama 

Jeff Haars – Vice President and Deputy Program Manager, Jacobs Space Exploration

Laura Hall – State Representative (D) District 19 

Larry Lewis – Cofounder and President, PROJECTTXYZ, Inc. 

John Mankins – President, Artemis Innovation Management Systems 

John Meredith – President Pro Tem, District 5, Huntsville City Council 

Raymond Pierce – President and CEO, Southern Education Foundation 

Ritchie Whorton – State Representative (R) District 22 

Lisa Williams – Cofounder and President, 3D Research Corp.

Three Schools Return to Class; State Announces Vaccine Plan

Huntsville City Schools announced that Columbia, Lee and New Century Technology high schools students will return to campus classroom learning today.

The system suspended in-person learning last Wednesday through Friday due to the number of teachers under self-quarantine for exposure to COVID-19.

There were no new cases of positive tests at any of the three schools. However, the number of teachers who would be absent and the lack of substitute teachers to fill the void led the school system to transition back to virtual learning for three days.

The system began the school year with virtual classes only for the first nine weeks.

“When you have a lot of staff members in quarantine or a lot of teachers in quarantine, that of course takes away the student supervision in terms of teaching and learning,” HCS spokesperson Craig Williams said when classroom activities were suspended.

Meanwhile, the Alabama Department of Public Health rolled out plans for distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine when one becomes available.

In a best-case scenario, one would be available to select individuals by the end of this year and to the general public in 2021.

If available the first persons to receive the vaccine will be those at high risk, including those with serious illness, health care workers and first responders.

“We want to assure the public that there will be (an) equitable distribution of vaccine to all Alabamians, especially to vulnerable populations in rural and urban areas,” State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said in a news release.

According to the release, several vaccine products are currently in clinical trials and will be released after their safety has been reviewed and approved by a panel of health experts. The vaccine will be provided free of charge.

The plan has three phases — critical populations, provider recruitment and enrollment, and many additional sections pertaining to vaccine. These include storage and handling, documentation and reporting, second-dose reminders, regulatory considerations, vaccine safety and program monitoring.

  • Phase 1: potentially limited doses of vaccine will be available and they will be targeted to those at highest risk and highest risk of exposure, first responders and healthcare workers who care for those with critical needs.
  • Phase 2: large numbers of doses will be available, and supply is likely to meet demand. Educational efforts will target critical populations who were not vaccinated in Phase 1.
  • Phase 3: there is likely to be a sufficient supply and all unvaccinated groups will be targeted. Special attention will be directed to populations or communities with low vaccine coverage.

The complete plan may be viewed at

Operation Warp Speed, the federal program to make available 300 million doses of a vaccine by early 2021, is a plan to shorten a normal six-year vaccine approval process.

To volunteer for vaccine trials visit

City Schools Facing Staffing Shortage Due to COVID-19; 3 Schools Temporarily Close

Three Huntsville City Schools closed campus classrooms Wednesday and returned to remote learning until at least Friday.

The move wasn’t made because of an increase in positive COVID-19 tests, but because multiple staff members went into self-quarantine.

The three schools are Columbia, Lee and New Century Technology.

The system began the school year with virtual learning for the first nine weeks.

“When you have a lot of staff members in quarantine or a lot of teachers in quarantine, that of course takes away the student supervision in terms of teaching and learning,” said Huntsville City Schools spokesman Craig Williams.

“Transitioning a school into remote learning is now something we’re familiar with, something we did at the beginning of the school year. It’s something both students and staff have a comfort level with.”

While classrooms are closed, the three schools will offer curbside meals for students.

According to Williams, school officials will assess the situation Friday and inform students and parents whether or not campus will reopen Monday or later.

Teachers not in quarantine will continue to teach virtual classes from school.

“They’re not congregating, they’re not gathering in one area out of an abundance of caution to make sure we’re following those safety guidelines,” Williams said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also stressed the availability of substitute teachers.

“It’s definitely worse than it’s been in the past relative to the sub shortage because of COVID,” Williams said. “I think some individuals are hesitant not only to be around other people but be around children.”

Anyone interested in becoming a substitute teacher can apply at the Huntsville City Schools website. 

Bryant Bank Donates $125,000 to UAH Nursing, Athletics Programs

Charger Blue has a shade of green today, thanks to a donation from Bryant Bank.

Representatives of the bank’s Huntsville office visited the University of Alabama in Huntsville College of Nursing and Athletics Department to make two donations in a total of $125,000.

Ken Watson, president of Bryant Bank Huntsville, presents a $25,000 gift to UAH Director of Athletics Cade Smith, left, and Mallie Hale, Vice President for University Advancement. (UAH Photo/Michael Mercier).

The UAH Charger Athletics program received an unrestricted gift of $25,000 that will go to support the 14 men’s and women’s programs.

“To get such a generous contribution during the pandemic is just truly unbelievable,” said Dr. Cade Smith, UAH Director of Athletics. “This is the second year in a row they have made this gift, and we were certainly blessed last year through their generosity as well.

“For this gift to come right now speaks volumes, and it is hard to put into words how grateful we are for Bryant Bank.”

The second donation was made to the UAH College of Nursing and was the annual $100,000 gift as part of a 30-year, $3 million partnership.  Specifically, this pledge supports the bank’s continuing commitment to providing UAH College of Nursing students scholarships for Early Promotion into UAH Nursing Program.

“The UAH College of Nursing is so appreciative of the support Bryant Bank has shown us over the years and for continued support in the future,” said Dr. Marsha Howell Adams, dean and professor of the UAH College of Nursing. “This scholarship has had a major impact on the lives of our nursing students by promoting their ability to be successful in our nursing program.”

Established in 2014, EPNP is an honors program offered by the College of Nursing to highly qualified students who enter UAH as freshmen and declare nursing as their major. Through this program they may take all the lower division nursing coursework on the UAH campus and are guaranteed placement in upper division nursing courses.

“Today, we are very proud to provide a total of $125,000 in contributions to the UAH College of Nursing and athletics programs,” said Ken Watson, president of Bryant Bank of Huntsville.  “Over the past seven years, the annual $100,000 donation has helped UAH recruit outstanding undergraduate nursing school students who are high achievers academically, but also very important members of our health care community upon graduation.

“We are also excited to again make this $25,000 donation to the athletics program to assist with the recruitment and development of its student-athletes and to promote its athletic programs … charge-on!”

(Top photo: Ken Watson, President of Bryant Bank Huntsville, presents $100,000 gift to UAH College of Nursing. (l-r) Associate Dean, Graduate programs Dr. Karen Frith; Ken Watson; College of Nursing Dean Marsha Howell Adams; Provost Christine Curtis; Associate Dean, Undergrarduate Programs Dr. Amy Lanz; and Vice President of Advancement Mallie Hale.)

Ready. Set. Read! New Library Van Connects Communities to Literacy

It’s not just retailers and restaurants that are providing curbside service during the pandemic.

The Huntsville-Madison County Public Library Ready Reader program has been providing curbside delivery of its services, as well.

And now, thanks to a funding gift from Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong, the library’s outreach services have a new van to make deliveries easier. It will join the Bookmobile in the library’s fleet of vehicles that brings library services to the community.

The new van will be used to support the Ready Reader program, a monthly literacy program the library provides for all three area school systems. It serves about 100 Title 1 Pre-K and Head Start classrooms monthly in Madison County with books, teachers’ kits, and story time; and focuses on pre-literacy skills that help lay the groundwork for  academic success and help foster a lifelong love of learning. 

“The Ready Reader vehicle is a valuable tool to the children and students of our three public school systems to encourage a love of reading, imagination, and creativity,” said Strong. “In today’s unique learning environment at both the school and home, expanding the reach of important educational tools to our children is another way we can invest in their future.”

“In addition to our 11 locations throughout Madison County, the Outreach Department provides crucial library services to many in our community, including seniors and preschoolers,” said Mandy Pinyan, the library’s Outreach Manager. “This program is one of the most important things the Library does because we are reaching children who may not otherwise come into one of our locations. We are essentially a library on wheels, reaching children at an age when they are beginning to develop the literacy skills they need.” 

The new vehicle replaces its 1996 model, which will be used for other library needs. 

The vehicle will also be used to support other programs once the pandemic has ended to include puppet shows, STEM programs and summer reading. 

(Pictured: Madison County Commission Chairman Dale W. Strong, HMCPL Interim Executive Director Cindy Hewitt, HMCPL Board Member Carla Clift and students from Blossomwood Elementary)

Construction Begins on Alabama A&M Event Center and Arena

There’s some hoopla happening on The Hill!

After years of anticipation and planning, construction has begun on Alabama A&M’s 132,000-square-foot event center and arena, Turner Construction’s Huntsville office announced Thursday.

The new Alabama A&M University event center/arena will host sporting events, commencement exercises and other campus activities.

The new space will include an arena with a 6,000-person capacity, locker rooms, training rooms, an Alabama A&M athletic Hall of Fame, and a kitchen with the capability to provide meals for all events on campus.

The arena will host sporting events such as basketball and volleyball games, commencement exercises, and other university functions.

“The center will provide the university with a much-needed facility where we can host major functions, such as commencements, convocations, our annual scholarship gala, and athletic events,” said A&M President Andrew Hugine Jr. “It will be a state-of-the-art facility just off of North Memorial Parkway, and we are thrilled to be making this addition for our students and the community, which will transform the landscape of North Huntsville.”

The Alabama A&M University Athletics Hall of Fame will have a home in the new facility.

Turner is the construction management agent for the project. Under the CMa approach, the construction manager serves as an extension of the project owner’s staff and is responsible for construction management services, including advising, coordinating, and inspecting project design and construction, and competitively bidding the various construction components to trade contractors.

Turner will work with architecture firm Nola Van Peursem and engineering firms Moody Nolan (arena consultant); The EE Group (electrical engineer); Mims Engineering (mechanical/plumbing/fire protection); Johnson and Associates (civil engineer); LBYD (structural engineer); Camacho (food service); and Bostick Landscape Architects. The project is expected to be completed in the fall of 2022.

“We are excited to partner with Alabama A&M on our fourth project together,” said Tyce Hudson, project executive at Turner Construction Company in Huntsville. “We have experienced a lot of success together and there is no doubt that this is going to be the best project yet.

“It is going to be an excellent facility for Alabama A&M University and the community.”

As FAME Star Shines, Chamber Formalizes Partnership with Rocket City Chapter

From the time Toyota launched its flagship Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) initiative in 2014, city leaders praised it as a promising and much needed apprenticeship training program and recruitment tool for the entire region.

AMTs Paul Logston and Brandon Powers working at Huntsville’s EFi Inc.

Now the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce is formalizing its support for the Rocket City Chapter of FAME Alabama with an official partnership.

According to Lydia Pennington, Chamber Industry Relations director, this new partnership includes local industry and education partners, and the North Alabama Manufacturing Institute.

“Making this partnership official will help support Toyota and AL FAME as a trusted employer-led talent solution,” said Pennington. “For several years, the Chamber has been a constant presence in support of the program and that has not changed, but more than 10,000 new manufacturing jobs have been announced over the past three years in Huntsville/Madison County. That accounts for more than 80 percent of total job announcements, so we are excited about this.”

FAME also got the attention of Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle who, in a panel discussion after his State of the City Address, said his administration was discussing strategy, trying to shore up anything that could prevent Huntsville from realizing its full potential when FAME filled in some problem areas.

“At the time, Toyota was advertising for 200 jobs, and they had 10,000 people apply,” he said. “That showed us we had an under-employment issue that needed to be addressed.”

Pennington said the partnership will also help the Rocket City chapter grow and diversify into other industries besides automotive – in fact, that is already happening.

Brown Precision, a machine manufacturing company in Huntsville, has been onboard almost from the beginning.

“The FAME program is the most effective way we have found to solve the problem of finding qualified industrial maintenance technicians,” said Co-CEO Greg Brown. “We have over 50 CNC machine tools that need constant planned/preventive maintenance and occasional major repairs.

“I’ve been impressed by the rigor of the FAME program’s technical education as well as the program’s emphasis on the ‘essential’ skills required to be a part of a successful organization. I am thankful that the FAME program has filled a critical void for Brown Precision Inc.”

Matthew Johnson, Dante Thomas and Matthew Rolin at FAME graduation.

In Huntsville, FAME enrollment has more than doubled since 2014 and that jump in 2019 was a topic of discussion last September when First Daughter Ivanka Trump visited the Manufacturing Institute to celebrate the partnership that brought the FAME USA apprenticeship program under MI leadership.

“Toyota did something exceptional in creating a pilot that was excellent, to train that next generation of high-tech manufacturers, and then we start to scale it across the country,” Trump said. “FAME is an example of manufacturing taking best class practices from the private sector and scaling that opportunity so that many, many, more Americans can experience this pathway of acquired skills through this great program.

“We’re seeing people who have previously been on the sidelines of our economy, now entering the workforce and securing the skills that they need to not just get a job, but to secure a career.”

Findings in a report put out by the Brookings Institution and Opportunity America show AL FAME is one of the most successful apprenticeship models in the country. The report draws special attention to FAME’s benefits for less advantaged students, including older learners and those not planning to attend college.

Apprenticeship is the only path to a postsecondary credential and well-paying career for these people but, with COVID-19, a more job-focused education and training is also an option.

“Our study highlights what a growing group of manufacturing employers already know,” said Opportunity America President Tamar Jacoby, one of the authors of the report. “The FAME program works to prepare learners for today’s rapidly changing economy, teaching not just technical skills but also critical thinking, problem solving and teamwork.”

Today, FAME is a national network of nearly 400 companies in 13 states, with more than 1,100 Advanced Maintenance Technicians (AMTs) completing the program.

“We welcome this partnership with the Chamber, which we know will allow us to continue to grow … the workforce needs of this region,” said Scott Russo, president of the Rocket City Chapter of AL FAME. “The rapid growth of this chapter shows the value of the FAME model, and now, with more than 20 companies sponsoring AMTs, it is a great time to add an experienced and trusted partner to help us manage the Chapter.”

For Tony Davis, senior director for Workforce Initiatives for MI and FAME USA national leader, the partnership is a model for a win-win situation.

“With the Chamber helping employers solve their skilled position needs while growing local workforce capacity, at the same time theses employers are strengthening their pipeline of global-best talent while fostering relationships with local schools to continue to feed that pipeline,” said Davis. “All of this makes the area more attractive for continued growth, ensuring the entire region benefits from the economies created through this partnership.”

There are 51 graduates from the Rocket City Chapter of FAME, and there are currently 73 students enrolled in the Huntsville program.

“The Chamber is committed to supporting the FAME Rocket City Chapter and helping it grow to meet local demand,” said Pennington.


United Way Making a Virtual ‘Jumpstart’ with Annual Reading Day

The pandemic has altered the way people go about their daily lives and special events.

The United Way of Madison County‘s annual “Jumpstart Read for the Record” is no different.

In past years, volunteers would visit classrooms around the area and read the same book on the same day.

This year, they will still read the same book on Thursday, but – with the aid of Facebook and Zoom – it will be a virtual reading.

“The key focus,” said the agency’s Community Impact Director Cathy Miller, “will be to reach every child in public school ages 3-8 years.  To do so, we’ve enlisted the help of superintendents in Huntsville City, Madison City and Madison County systems. They will be encouraging every PreK-2nd grade class in their school to be open to receiving a free copy of the book, ‘Evelyn Del Ray is Moving Away’ from United Way so teachers can read for the record on Oct. 29 with their class.

Miller said the volunteer readers are posting messages on social media to let the community know how this year’s event will work.

Key support from the Junior League of Huntsville, Hexagon and a team of 10 volunteers is bringing the event to life.  The story is also read at the Huntsville/Madison County Library in its preschool story times.

“During such unprecedented times when our community needs our nonprofit community and its services more than ever, events such as Jumpstart can put our arms around our teachers and our community,” said Clay Vandiver, President and CEO of United Way. “It can draw attention to vital issues and the role of United Way in bringing vital resources and supporting key nonprofits.

“This one-day event is an extension of our year-round work.”


The Event that Almost Wasn’t: Huntsville Science Festival Goes Virtual

Leave it to 2020 to throw a wrench in things.

In the Huntsville area, which prides itself on creativity and innovation, shifting gears has been the norm. 

Shifting gears. And that’s exactly what Huntsville Science Festival has done. By migrating to the virtual platform, the event is ready to roll.

In its inaugural year, Huntsville Science Festival/PPG STEAMfest 2020: Science at Home is a weeklong celebration of science, highlighting all things STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math). 

From Oct. 24-31, participants can learn about astronomy, backyard biology, umbrella rockets, killer kudzu, dinosaurs, squirrels, genetics, robots, music, food, and beer!

All events are free and open to the public. Presentations will feature speakers from a variety of organizations; HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, Innerspace Brewing, RadioBro, Von Braun Astronomical Society, Leonardo Project LLC, and more.

As an affiliate of MIT’s Science Festival Alliance, Huntsville Science Festival is only one of two national science festivals that has survived COVID.

The event was initially scheduled to be hosted at the Von Braun Center. Then, along came the pandemic. As a result, the Las Vegas Science Festival, now in its 10th year, has been postponed to 2021. The Atlanta Festival canceled midweek. 

Huntsville’s Festival was teetering on cancellation, as well.

“We were considering that” said Joe Iocuzzo, event organizer. “Then, decided that we could make it a virtual event.” 

The festival kicks off with the Von Braun Astronomical Society Astronomical Day and its “Astronomy for Everyone.” In this presentation, participants will be virtually transported to the VBAS Observatory to see live viewing through telescopes! 

“The Science Festival is not just for kids,” said Iocuzzo. 

A few of the presentations that may pique the interest of the grown-ups include Innerspace Brewery’s “Beer: Sudsy Science.” Participants will learn that there’s more to beer than what meets the eye, or the tastebuds.

Heidi Kizer from the Bakingtist will present “Baking Science: Bread Balloon Bonanza.” Kizer, a “sourdough bread-slinging, pastry-providin’, and MegaCookie-making baker” will demonstrate how science can be delicious and nutritious. 

And for those squirrel lovers among us, there’s “Squirrely Personalities: Amazing Facts About Those Backyard Critters” presented by Dr. Amanda Kelly of the College of Charleston. 

All events can be accessed through the festival website. Although some of the presentations are previously recorded, there will be live Q&A sessions after each presentation.

Several of the classes require supplies. Free kits are available at any of the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library branches. Due to limited supply, calling ahead for availability is highly recommended. Curbside pick-up will also be available.

In addition to the presentations, there will be an auction in support of the Science Festival Alliance. Items include an original painting by paleo artist Dr. Julius Csotonyi, one of the foremost scientific illustrators in the world; a coin with embedded art by Dr. Alexandra LeFort, a planetary scientist and artist; and book by Iocuzzo, “Last Day of the Dinosaur Mummy.” 

For information, visit


Drake State Holds Signing Day for Students Entering Mazda Toyota Program

Drake State Community & Technical College held its first Signing Day Ceremony, but it didn’t have anything to do with athletics.

But a pair of students did commit to going to the next level in their education and careers.

Darise Andrews and Jack Crowley signed on the dotted line and put on their ballcaps as they committed to apprenticeships with Mazda Toyota Manufacturing. They are the first Drake State students to enter the program.

Drake State and Mazda Toyota Manufacturing  developed the apprenticeship program to support workforce needs at the  automotive production plant and provide students with work-based learning  opportunities. 

As student-interns, Andrews and Crowley will attend classes at Drake State two days a week and work at the Mazda Toyota plan three days. They will also be assigned mentors.