Laurel Ridge professor attends STEM training at NASA site

For Immediate Release:
June 27, 2017

Primary Media Contact:
Sally Voth
Public Relations Specialist
[email protected]
Phone: 540-868-7134


Laurel Ridge computer science professor Melissa Stange’s students will have some out-of-this world opportunities thanks to a recent workshop she attended at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Wallops Flight Facility.

Stange was among the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) faculty from 15 Virginia community colleges participating in the STEM Takes Flight Community College Professional Development workshop – a joint project of the flight facility and the Virginia Space Grant Consortium – in May. Her time there came just one week after Gov. Terry McAuliffe flew over Wallops Island in a plane that could be piloted from the ground.

During the workshop Stange took part in complicated scientific balloon and Antares Rocket mission simulations.


Professor Melissa Stange, wearing pink in the center, with colleagues at the Wallops Flight Facility.

“For the rocket simulation, I was responsible for ensuring the smooth operation of telemetry, as well as maintaining optical communication and data quality, while also leading troubleshooting of any anomalies relating to range assets and services, and then providing information to the launch coordinator for a go or no-go,” she says. “We used a real NASA launch checklist. At times it was stressful with multiple countdowns happening at the same time. It really hit home how vital communication skills and teamwork are.

“For the balloon simulation, my role was meteorologist, and I was responsible for advising on weather patterns, as well as using my math skills to advise my team on whether to bring the balloon back down onto water or land.”

As Laurel Ridge’s associate degree in computer science program finished its second year, Stange was looking for ways to enhance the curriculum. Because she completed the NASA workshop, her students are now eligible to collaborate with astronauts on the International Space Station on orbital testing

“It’s totally up to our students on what they want to send up there,” Stange says.

For instance, if students opt to send a Lego robot to space, astronauts can see if the programs put on it by the students operate the same in space as on Earth.

“It’s just a whole new avenue for Laurel Ridge students to get different experiences,” Stange says.

Her experience coincides with 2017 Laurel Ridge graduate Peter Harrison’s summer internship with NASA at the Langley Research Center, also a part of the STEM Takes Flight program.


Founded in 1970, Laurel Ridge Community College is a multi-campus public institution of higher education. With three locations — Middletown, Warrenton, and Luray-Page County — the College serves eight localities in the Shenandoah Valley and northern Piedmont regions. The localities are the counties of Clarke, Fauquier, Frederick, Page, Rappahannock, Shenandoah and Warren and the city of Winchester. Laurel Ridge offers more than 75 associate degree and certificate programs in a wide variety of disciplines, in addition to providing access to bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs offered on site by a four-year institution. Laurel Ridge also serves the business community by offering workforce preparation programs for employees and employers. Laurel Ridge serves more than 9,000 unduplicated credit students and more than 11,000 individuals in professional development and business and industry courses annually.

Laurel Ridge Community College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) to award associate degrees. Laurel Ridge Community College also may offer credentials such as certificates and diplomas at approved degree levels. Questions about the accreditation of Laurel Ridge Community College may be directed in writing to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, GA 30033-4097, by calling (404) 679-4500, or by using information available on SACSCOC’s website (

Laurel Ridge Community College is an equal opportunity institution providing educational and employment opportunities, programs, services, and activities. Laurel Ridge shall promote and maintain equal employment and educational opportunities without regard to race, color, religion, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, marital status, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions including lactation, age (except when age is a bona fide occupational qualification), status as a veteran, national origin, or other non-merit factors. Laurel Ridge also prohibits sexual misconduct including sexual violence or harassment. Inquiries may be directed to the Associate Vice President, Human Resources, [email protected]173 Skirmisher Lane, Middletown, VA 22645, 540-868-7226.

Laurel Ridge Community College was known as Lord Fairfax Community College until June 2022. For consistency purposes, the college will be referenced as Laurel Ridge going forward.