The Student News Site of Minnechaug Regional High School

The Smoke Signal

The Student News Site of Minnechaug Regional High School

The Smoke Signal

The Student News Site of Minnechaug Regional High School

The Smoke Signal

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MRHS Class of ‘73 Celebrates Classmate’s Love of Science and Technology

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the graduation of the Minnecahug Class of 1973. There was celebration in the air as they enjoyed activities such as a football game, a dinner and dance at the Wilbraham Country Club, and a trivia contest. Daiva Gasperetti and Lisa Baldridge-Fisacone, both past members of The Smoke Signal, reminisced over their time in the old building and remarked that the new building was “fresh and modern” though it “threw us a little off kilter”. But amid all of this celebration, they did not forget the one who couldn’t be there.
Janice Voss graduated early from Minnechaug Regional High School. She was only fifteen when she pursued her dream of becoming an astronaut, first at Purdue University and then finishing with her Ph.D. in aeronautics and astronautics from MIT. She had an illustrious career at NASA, during which time she went on five missions for a total of 18.8 million miles in space and created the highest-resolution map of Earth ever made. All of this was during a time when women made up only 10% of engineers. Unfortunately, she passed away when she was just 55 years old. As part of the Class of 1973, she made a huge impression on the other members. Ms. Gasperetti and Ms. Baldridge-Fiascone, recollected fondly that she was one of the most kind and gentle individuals they have ever met.
In Janice’s name, the Class of 1973 is forwarding several initiatives to encourage STEM education within the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District. They have donated STEM-themed books to school libraries throughout the district, offered one 9 -to 11-year-old student a paid trip to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, and created a $2500 annual scholarship for a graduating senior at Minnechaug who plans to go into a STEM-related field.
As another part of this initiative, they wanted to pass on Janice’s story to current Minnechaug students. Ms. Gasperetti, who is also a member of the Janice Voss Memorial Committee, believes that Janice is a “great role model” because she “found her passion and strove for it.” They organized an assembly on Friday, October 13th, for students to attend. There, Janice’s sister, Linda Voss, shared Janice’s story about her determination to become an astronaut. Voss then introduced the keynote speaker, Dr. Bernard Harris. Harris, who served alongside Janice as an astronaut, is also a supporter of STEM initiatives in schools throughout the country.
Dr. Harris was inspired to be an astronaut the moment Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon in 1969. He is now most famous for being the first African American to walk in space. He spent ten very successful years at NASA, during which time he studied the impact that extended time in space has on the human body and how to mitigate some of those effects. He also founded the Harris Foundation in 1998 which conducts several initiatives to increase STEM educational opportunities, especially for students in economically disadvantaged communities. The Foundation runs multiple STEM summer programs for children who are interested in STEM-related fields. Dr. Harris hopes that these camps will give students the same moment of inspiration that he had in 1969. Dr. Harris is now the CEO and Managing Partner of Vesalius Ventures, a venture capital firm that invests in healthcare technology.
It was during his time at NASA that he met Janice Voss while flying on the STS-63 Space Mission in 1995. They were in the 13th class together, and Dr. Harris remembers her as “the smartest woman I’ve ever met.” He said that he was honored to be in Wilbraham as part of this assembly to celebrate her life.
To students looking to follow in his footsteps, he says that it’s essential to finish high school. Harris emphasized that you have to work hard and “point yourself in a direction” to achieve your goals. When asked about what he sees as the importance of STEM education, he replied that it is now required in nearly every type of job. People who go into STEM-related fields have careers that not only earn more money they also set themselves up for success in the future. In addition, he believes that a STEM-based education will teach people to be innovative and adapt to new industries and jobs that haven’t even been created yet.
Dr. Harris gave a riveting presentation to Minnechaug students in the auditorium, sharing multiple pictures and stories about his time in space. Dr. Harris also shared photographs of the breathtaking views he experienced outside of the shuttle while he was walking in space. Lastly, he left Minnechaug students with the thought of the future foremost in their minds. He brought up the endeavors NASA is currently undertaking, including the Artemis Ventures, and emphasized the importance that STEM has in all of these initiatives. He then stared out at the audience and asked them a final lingering question. “Are you prepared for the future?”

Dr. Bernard Harris
Linda Voss
Class of 1973 members Lisa Baldridge-Fiascone and Daiva Gasperetti.

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