Sevier Co. students learn rocket science from NASA engineer with Tenn. roots

A NASA engineer inspired kids at his alma mater in Sevier County.
Published: Feb. 25, 2021 at 7:03 PM EST
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SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - A NASA engineer inspired kids at his alma mater in Sevier County. After speaking to a couple classes of third graders, they can tell you all about him and his job.

“We learned about spaceships and how they have to go through the atmosphere with Stewart Whaley,” said Mason Gilbert, a third-grade student at Sevierville Intermediate School.

Gilbert and his classmates had never met someone who worked at NASA before.

“It was so cool,” said Gilbert.

Teacher Kristen Hodges said they’ve been studying astronomy, learning about the solar system and space travel.

Hodges said, “It is incredibly heartwarming and exciting to see them gaining so much knowledge over the past few weeks.”

“We were lucky to have the experience to speak with Stewart Whaley about his job and how it related to what we had been studying,” said Jessica Marlow, another third grade teacher.

“It’s made up of stars and planets,” said Flynn Smelcer, a third-grade student.

Principal Noelle Sutton said they’ve had to get creative with visitors this year given the pandemic.

“I think it’s a moment that they will remember,” said Sutton.

Ryelee Ownby said she learned a ton.

“We learned about Apollo 11 during space and how scientists’ theories about space and stuff like that,” explained Ownby.

Their knowledge spoke for itself, but when Stewart Whaley showed up in their class the kids thought it was “cool.” Stewart graduated from SIS many moons ago.

“Stewart actually worked on SpaceX,” said Ownby.

Ownby thought he did a stellar job talking about spaceships, too.

“My favorite part was really learning about like how they build these things,” explained Ownby, “Because as a kid I never really thought about how they would build these I just thought they were kind of like magical, as a kid.”

“I really enjoyed talking about what I do and hearing that I have inspired some of them to pursue this further is really nice,” said Whaley, a NASA engineer.

He inspired Gilbert to want to be a NASA engineer.

Students have continued to learn about astronomy working on writing about what it would be like at the International Space Station.

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