Funding their flight: Corporate sponsors support Alabama rocketryBy Niles Bernabe | 11/20/2017 9:46am
The University of Alabama recently reached new heights with the Alabama Rocketry Association, the award-winning student organization that provides student with hands-on rocketry experience. Their team members find their passion by looking to the sky, but they soon found that they also needed to look in their wallets.
With a junior and senior design team competing nationally next summer, the ARA needed substantial resources to design and manufacture their rockets. The team started looking across the nation and beyond, searching for companies to support their mission.
“We have a combined business team for both of our design teams to raise the funds for the year,” said Chase Trautman, a junior mechanical engineering major and project manager of the junior design team. “We put together a brochure with several different areas of our program. We’ll email companies our brochure in hopes that they respond, or sometimes cold call companies or use a contact we have there to see if they would be interested.”
The ARA does not look for sponsorships exclusively from rocket companies, with past sponsorships ranging from law firms to shipbuilding businesses. This year, the ARA is looking for financing from over 90 groups, including 3M, SpaceX, and Slack. These sponsorships don’t always come in the form of money however, as the ARA also accepts donations in the form of software licenses or raw material for their rockets.
One of the most recent sponsorships they received is from far beyond the state of Alabama. Close to 5,000 miles away, a start-up in Germany decided the ARA was worth the investment. The company, Zenkit, is an online collaboration tool designed to help teams manage projects and was featured on Forbes as the startup of the week.
“We decided to sponsor the Alabama Rocketry Association because we really like the idea of young people trying to achieve something so amazing,” said Siobhan O’Rorke, marketing manager at Zenkit. “It is also the perfect fit to our Startup Academy program. We support non-profit and educational teams in their mission by providing access to the Zenkit platform, as well as courses and tutorials on project management.”
Zenkit has helped the design teams to more effectively assign tasks and deadlines to their different subteams. Being able to use the software and tutorials for free has enabled the ARA to manage their projects using industry standard tools and develop their organization for the long-term.
“It was really tough to organize the entire team before,” Trautman said. “Within each team there are subteams like propulsion, structures, electronics and business. We felt that it was really hard to keep track of who was assigned to what tasks and deadlines for each task ... We spent a week looking for (a project management) software that had everything that we needed and we still couldn't find anything until we found Zenkit.”
This sponsorship not only helps the organization this year, but facilitates vital knowledge transfers for design teams in years to come.
“It's really transformed the way we manage projects,” Trautman said. “We can see how much time someone spent on a task. That's something that's been really important this year, keeping track of how long each task took so that next year’s team can more effectively plan a timeline for each project."
At this point in the year, besides working to raise funds for the rocket build, design-team members are also researching and creating preliminary designs of their rocket. The design teams meet once a week to share their findings and reallocate tasks. Next semester, the teams will start gathering the necessary raw materials to assemble the rockets that they’ve designed in the first semester.
“Information gathering is mostly individual work, but all of the actual work like designing and manufacturing we do as a whole group,” said Josh Tuckey, a junior aerospace engineering major and member of the junior design team. “We’re now nearing the end of the preliminary phase that we started at the beginning of the semester. We’re getting to the point now where we want to finalize designs and start creating something concrete.”
Members of the club are proud of how everyone gets hands-on rocketry experience when they join ARA. Even underclassmen in the club are able to get real-world experience by assembling and launching smaller rockets to get rocketry certification.
“I can’t think of a single opportunity I would have had to get anywhere near this scale prior to this club,” Tuckey said. “Just because of how intensive it is in terms of research and teamwork, you're not going to see many people doing this type of work on their own.”
The ARA is not exclusive for aerospace majors or even engineering majors. The interdisciplinary nature of the organization leaves it open to people of all majors with an interest in rocketry.
For more information about ARA, visit www.alabamarocketry.org. For more information about Zenkit, visit www.zenkit.com.