AeroCats Lead the Way in Planning Aero Games

From left to right: Jared "Reed" Tarpley, Scott Giannelli, Amber Cowan, David Rea, Instructor R. Curtis Sparling, Brandi Cerrito, and Kasey Amos pose for a team photo at the fifth annual Aero Games, held in partnership with Google.

From left to right: Jared “Reed” Tarpley, Scott Giannelli, Amber Cowan, David Rea, Instructor R. Curtis Sparling, Brandi Cerrito, and Kasey Amos pose for a team photo at the fifth annual Aero Games, held in partnership with Google.

Not every college senior can say they’ve helped plan a regional event in partnership with Google, but that’s exactly what six students at Rogers State University have done.

As part of their capstone project, students Kasey Amos, Brandi Cerrito, Amber Cowan, Scott Giannelli, David Rea and Jared “Reed” Tarpley took on several aspects of planning and organizing Aero Games, a science, technology, engineering, and math competition powered by Google.

The team of technology students, christened the AeroCats, began working on the event in the fall by connecting with area schools. Since then the team has served a central role in organizing the schedule, creating presentation graphics, scripting speaker roles and implementing the event. Most notably, the students designed a custom six-component obstacle course built specifically for the competition at RSU.

This marks the first time RSU students had such a hands-on role in planning and enacting the Aero Games, which have been held at RSU five times.

Instructor R. Curtis Sparling, who serves as a capstone advisor to the students, said he has seen the students grow both as leaders and professional communicators.

RSU senior Scott Giannelli poses with the team from Claremore Sequoyah Middle School after their run through the Aero Games obstacle course. The team, which Giannelli mentored leading up to the games, won awards for school spirit, most creative drone, and third place overall.

RSU senior Scott Giannelli poses with the team from Claremore Sequoyah Middle School after their run through the Aero Games obstacle course. The team, which Giannelli mentored leading up to the games, won awards for school spirit, most creative drone, and third place overall.

“There was some initial trepidation among the students about interacting with faculty in a peer-to-peer manner, so we addressed those and other concerns week by week,” Sparling said. “As a result, they’ve had a central role in several planning and design aspects of the Aero Games. I’ve seen the team grow in confidence and ability, as well as develop as leaders. There’s no better feeling as a teacher than to watch my students succeed, and that is exactly what they’ve done.”

“The RSU students have demonstrated tremendous leadership in planning the AeroGamesNXT,” Google Operations Manager Brenda Standridge said. “Since its inception, this event was designed to inspire young people to pursue their passions, and that doesn’t stop with the participants. I know it’s been a good learning opportunity for the RSU students, and our event will be better because of their involvement. RSU walks the walk when it comes to fostering leadership in its students, and that’s one of the many reasons they are a great partner.”

Giannelli, an applied technology senior from Claremore, said the project grew from mentoring students and building drones in the fall to organizing the event schedule and designing the obstacle course in the spring. He said the different backgrounds of each team member was an advantage when handling software, building, paperwork and photography.

“We’ve all kind of worked ourselves into our own niche,” Giannelli said. “We naturally fell into areas we were comfortable with, and when we came to areas none of us knew, we all took it as an opportunity to learn.”

From left to right: AeroCats Kasey Amos and Brandi Cerrito manage a production table at the Aero Games.

From left to right: AeroCats Kasey Amos and Brandi Cerrito manage a production table at the Aero Games.

Cerrito, an applied technology – renewable energy senior from Owasso, said she was glad to see a higher rate of female leadership among the Aero Games student teams than she had seen at other state STEM competitions where her daughter had competed. She believes learning to work with and for women is an important part of teamwork in the workplace.

“If you’re going to build a new system or software, you’re going to need to know how to work as a team,” Cerrito said. “You have to learn how to give and receive positive or negative feedback in a way that’s productive, not creating conflict.”

The student teams Cerrito met with expressed excitement for the event early on, which made her glad.

“You want to enjoy what you do,” Cerrito said. “If they’re not having fun, they’re going to get into the tech industry thinking it’s mundane. I want them to have fun, and I want them to know just how big an adventure STEM can be.”

For Giannelli, the most memorable part of the experience was working with the student teams before the competition.

“When you first see the drone kit, it can be kind of intimidating, because you don’t know how it all works yet,” Giannelli said. “Some students were doubtful at first, but then they saw how it all fit together, and that helped boost their confidence. Seeing those students get motivated and excited for the Aero Games has been by far the most rewarding experience.”

For more information about the Aero Games, visit www.rsu.edu/aerogames.