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The Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium (WSGC) has named University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Fox Cities campus student Bella Ness, of Menasha, to the 2019-20 Elijah High-Altitude Balloon payload team.

This is the third time this award has been presented to a student on the Fox Cities campus in recent years. The award is funded through a NASA training grant, and Ness was selected from a statewide pool of applicants. She will receive a $4,000 educational experience stipend.

Students participating in the Elijah High-Altitude Balloon project fly their experiments in a near-space environment of 100,000 feet. They design, build and launch a payload; track and chase the balloon; retrieve the payload upon landing and analyze the resulting data.

During her second year on campus and still unsure of her major, Ness found herself taking a third geology course with professor Beth Johnson on the Fox Cities campus. Johnson encouraged Ness to attend presentations she thought Ness would enjoy. It was at one of these presentations that Ness found her major.

“Eventually, I attended a geology open house at the (UWO) Oshkosh campus, and I knew geology was the major I wanted to pursue as I was mesmerized the entire time,” Ness said.

Back at the Fox Cities campus, with Johnson’s continued encouragement, Ness decided to submit her application for the Elijah High-Altitude Balloon project. Johnson serves as the WSGC institutional representative on the Fox Cities campus. Ness knew the project would provide the valuable experience needed to work in a STEM field, including being part of a research team, just the kind of work she hopes to do in the future.

“I’m excited to work in a team environment that will be working towards the same goal. I’m looking forward to furthering my knowledge in writing professional papers and presenting in a professional setting,” Ness said.

Activities have been modified this year in response to the COVID-19 concerns to allow for a virtual design program.

Ness and her team will submit a professional paper and present its findings at the Annual Wisconsin Space Conference, postponed to August 2021.

“These student research experiences are so valuable to the students as it gives them the opportunity to be part of a research team and learn the skills needed to see a research project through from inception to completion,” Johnson said. “I am thrilled that the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium has found a way to adjust the project so students can still get this valuable experience while maintaining the social distancing necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Ness will be earning her associate degree in the fall. After a gap year, Ness plans to return to UW Oshkosh and earn a bachelor’s degree in geology.

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