Ignited from the observation of the lack of diverse participants in the model rocketry hobby and aerospace industry, mother and daughter team Robin and Charis Houston decided to create an avenue to increase participation of youth traditionally considered under-served and underrepresented in STEM programs and model rocketry. As a result, the FIRE Rocket Challenge launched in Fall 2021 with a group of fifteen fifth thru twelfth-grade students in the Maryland, DC, and Virginia metropolitan area!
After a week session at Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, Robin and Charis's trajectory to rocketry/STEM educators began in 2015. Charis returned home with enthusiasm, having learned she could mesh her love for all things space with her desire to be an engineer. But, "Houston, we have a problem!" Robin was a little less enthusiastic because she realized she would have to research opportunities in their community to help foster Charis's new interests. After several weeks of searching for accessible programs in the area, friends and fellow parents of a "STEM kid" directed Robin to FIRE STEM in Greenbelt, MD. FIRE STEM is a STEM education organization managed by a group of diverse aerospace engineers working at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. One of the programs FIRE offered was an opportunity to participate in the national TARC (The American Rocketry Challenge) competition. Charis signed up, and within a couple of months, she was building model rockets to meet specific design challenges. Her TARC mentor gave her a flyer advertising NARCON, the annual conference for the National Association of Rocketry (NAR), which became the second stage booster of her rocketry journey.
During the weekend of NARCON 2017 workshops and networking, Charis met two NAR members who encouraged her to try out for the junior national team. Six months later, she entered the competition to qualify for the national team and was selected to join the team that would represent the United States in the world championships in Poland the Summer of 2018. Of all of the juniors from twenty-four countries around the world on the launch field in Poland, Charis, and a teammate who was also a FIRE STEM student, were the only two brown-skinned children participating. On the plane ride home, Robin and Charis discussed how they might encourage other diverse juniors to take advantage of the rich experiences she enjoyed as a member of the model rocketry community. Charis was also selected during the next cycle for the 2020 Junior team before aging out of the junior age bracket at age nineteen years.
Charis graduated with a B.S. in Astronautical Engineering and is an Associate Engineer in Mission Operations.
Robin supports the National Society of Black Engineers Aerospace Special Interest Group K-12 Outreach efforts as program lead for the rocketry competition collaboration and is the current chairperson of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics K-12 Outreach Diversity Subcommittee.