Thursday, August 29, 2019
  Science & Technology, Community

By Letty Fernandez

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – Eighty high school students from the Brownsville Independent School District competed recently in the first Space Settlement Design Tournament: 2050 Lunar Mining Settlement, at Veterans Memorial Early College High School. 

Expanding Frontiers, a nonprofit organization created by Dr. Rick Jenet, UTRGV associate professor of Physics and Astronomy, partnered with BISD, UTRGV, the City of Brownsville and the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation (BCIC) to host the tournament, which was designed to give high school students the opportunity to create mock companies and work together to design a future space settlement.

They also competed for a two-day trip to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“As always students in South Texas, impress me,” Jenet said. “We have a lot of talent here and I am excited that we can bring programs that inspire our students to shape the future of technology and space exploration.” 

The students – who were randomly mixed into four companies with representation from all seven BISD early college high schools – worked from Friday evening until Sunday morning on their business proposals. 

Each company was led by a SSDT volunteer who has worked with the International Competition, and each was supported by at least one other volunteer who was either a researcher or from a space-related career either current or retired.

On the final day of what proved to be intense competition, the students representing four aerospace companies delivered their presentations to a panel of space industry experts that included retired NASA engineers, UTRGV researchers and current employees of space-related corporations.

The winners of the best design proposal were the Grumbo Aerospace Company. Students who presented the winning proposal were Jose Chavez, who served as president; Amado Caballero, vice president of Engineering; Eduarda Fernandez-Rey, vice president of Marketing; and team member Jack Jew.

The team also included David Bedartes, Eleazzar A. Campos, Kevin Ceniceros, Arnold Garcia, Christopher Higginbotham, Enrique Ibarra, Adrian Jasso, Karen Mar, Marco Antonio Ortiz, Antonio Treviño, Jorge Rebolledo and Alessandra Vasquez.

“When students were asked about their experiences, many spoke about making friends, finding inspiration, meeting their ‘stress personality’ and learning a great deal about the intense pressure involved in meeting deadlines in the real world,” said Dr. Roni Rentfro, BISD coordinator of School Improvement.

“We are grateful to everyone who gave up their weekend and made it possible to bring this unique experience to our high school students,” Rentfro said.

The tournament is part of a growing collaboration between UTRGV, BISD, the City of Brownsville, BCIC and Expanding Frontiers.

Jenet created the Expanding Frontiers project to develop the commercial space ecosystem and educational programs, with the goal of improving employment programs in Brownsville and across the Rio Grande Valley. The City of Brownsville and BCIC are partnering with Jenet, and the BCIC recently awarded the project $650,000.


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.