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4-H propels Illinois students into space study

Dhruv Rebba
Dhruv Rebba, 18, of Normal, is one of 12 Illinois youth traveling to Kennedy Space Center in Florida to design experiments that may be sent to the International Space Station.

A dozen Illinois youth are expected to travel Monday to Kennedy Space Center in Florida to compete in design of space-related experiments. The prize for the winning team will be to have its project launched to the International Space Station.

The 4-H contest is a part of a three-day camp at the Astronaut Memorial Foundation where 48 middle school and high schoolers and recent graduates will work in multi-state teams. Students were selected through a process run by Extension services at the University of Arizona, University of Illinois, University of Florida and Purdue University in Indiana.

Keith Jacobs, a STEM specialist for the Illinois Extension, is leading the program in Illinois. He had built drones at an earlier point in his career. “Once I started working for 4-H, I really got into teaching youth about these new technologies, how to develop them themselves, rather than being consumers,’’ he said.

“With all these essentially rich people flying, I was like, dude, space is tangible for everybody. And space is like right up there. If you look up, it's right there. So, if you could see it, you can get there. And that's really the message that we wanted to put out there.”

One of the youth participants is Dhruv Rebba, a recent Normal Community High School graduate who will be going to Arizona State University to study computer science.

Into ham radio and robotics, Rebba created 4-H robotics clubs at elementary schools in his area. He also created the nonprofit philanthropic organization called Universal Help after he visited his father’s hometown in India and was struck by the poverty he witnessed.

All that experience, Jacobs said, made Rebba a natural for 4-H in space.

Rebba said, “The historic part of this, is that it's never has really been done before anywhere in the United States, or, in fact, the world. So, we're really like pushing boundaries by doing this.”

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is lead editor of Illinois Issues' feature articles, working with freelance writers, and covering the equity beat. Maureen joined the Illinois Issues in 1998 as projects editor. Previously, she worked at three Illinois daily newspapers, most recently the suburban Chicago-based Daily Herald, where she served stints as an education reporter and copy editor. She graduated in 1985 with a bachelor's in journalism. She also has a master's degree in English from the University of Illinois at Springfield.
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