When Jared Cammon graduated Southwest DeKalb High School 20 years ago, he knew that one day he would be a teacher.
But first he became an engineer.
“Engineers made more money,” he said with a laugh.
But after a short stint working for a contractor for NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, he was in the classroom teaching “Introduction to Engineering” at Lone Star College CyFair @ the Cypress Center after part-time stints teaching mathematics and engineering courses at Alvin Community College and College of the Mainland, also in Texas.
Today, he is part of the celebrated Lone Star College Cy-Fair's Team CERO (Cutting, Extraction, Retention Operation), which has designed a zip-tie cutter tool, also called CERO, that NASA will take on its space mission in 2019.
Cammon, who is professor of Engineering and Engineering Technology, and Professor of Engineering Dr. Yiheng Wang are co-advisors of the five-member student team that created the award-winning design.
The team – Maria Gonzalez, Francesca Liso, Sean Palmer, Jim Philippi and Daniel Vasek – won the Texas Space Grant Consortium’s (TSGC) Annual Design Challenge in the spring. Its pen-shaped tool allows an astronaut to cut and retain a zip tie securely with a motion similar to clicking a pen.
Astronaut Chris Cassidy called it “elegant, magnificent and awesome.”
In May at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, the tool’s simplicity, versatility and ease of use during NASA's Micro-g Neutral Buoyancy Experiment Design Teams (Micro-g NExT) underwater testing was so impressive, the agency invited the Team CERO to continue developing it for further testing at NASA’s Active Response Gravity Offload System (ARGOS). The invitation was a first in the four-year history of the NASA Micro-g NExT challenge.
NASA intends to use the tool to assist with the repair of its Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS.)
Cammon said the invitation from NASA is a big deal.
“It’s the first time in the challenge’s four years that a device is going to be used in orbit," he said Sept. 10. "It doesn’t normally happen at all.”
Twenty-two colleges entered the Micro-g NExT challenge, which got underway in September 2017. It challenges undergraduate students to design, build, and test a tool or device that addresses an authentic, current space exploration challenge.
The students get hands-on engineering design experience, and participate in test operations that are conducted in the simulated microgravity environment of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) at Johnson Space Center.
Professional NBL divers test the tools with directions from the students in the NBL facility's Test Conductor Room.
This year, all but one – Lone Star Cy-Fair – were four-year colleges and universities. Cammon said that while other community colleges have participated in past challenges, his two-year community college is the only participant this year. Lone Star Cy-Fair's engineering program prepares students to transfer to four-year colleges.
Team CERO is still fine-tuning the tool’s design, and Cammon said it is currently working with its industry partner, Sond Industries Inc., on machining the prototype for manufacture.
A life of teaching
Helping guide and mentor the students, who all volunteered for the challenge, is right up Cammon’s alley.
It’s a role that he had prepared for all his life.
“I have always taught,” he said. “I taught when I was in college. I tutored students. I did honors tutoring. I taught bible studies. I am always teaching.”
Cammon's career includes eight years teaching at the community colleges, two years teaching at the secondary education level, and five years of private tutoring in science and math.
As he teaches, Cammon says he also tries to impart life lessons to his students.
One of those lessons is to take advantage of any opportunity that comes their way.
“Don’t be afraid to take it, even if it is not what you think you want,” he said.
As a product of DeKalb County Schools, Cammon also attended Bob Mathis Elementary and Chapel Hill Middle schools in Decatur. His parents, William and Carol, still live in Decatur.
Looking back to his high school career, Cammon, who finished third in his class, said he could have done better.
“I took tough courses but in my senior year I tried to take it easy,” he said. “I could have been second in my class. I got some scholarships to college but I could have gotten a full ride.”
Lucky for him, his mother, was a high school counselor and wouldn’t stand for it.
“She said you are doing this AP course and that AP course,” he said.
Cammon, who got a B.S. in mechanical engineering and an M.S. in bioengineering from Clemson University, said if he had asked for help from his teachers when he was in high school, he could have excelled more.
“I didn’t know how to ask for help,” he said.
He now advises students to seek help – for tutoring and other educational needs – so that they can do better.
Cammon also wished he had learned more soft skills – writing and oral communication, how to conduct himself in professional settings, and how to interact with co-workers – in high school.
He urges students, especially seniors, to also bone up on those skills which will help them to better perform and express themselves in college and the world of work.
Cammon, who has been teaching at Lone Star Cy-Fair for five years, said the students created the CERO tool with guidance from him and Wang.
“We guided them and were there in an advisory role,” he said. “But it was all their work.”
Beyond bragging rights, he said Team CERO is getting opportunities to participate in other NASA programs, and to apply for NASA internships which can be a pathway to NASA employment.
Cammon said he and Wang couldn’t be happier.
“Instructors dream of their students taking what they have learned and using it to succeed,” he said. “Usually it takes a good deal of time for instructors to hear back from students who have done this, but we get to see it happen right before our eyes.”