Communication student’s “Reading Solar Probe” captures hearts to win NASA challenge


Jacob Workentine, a senior majoring in communication-electronic media, recently took home a first-place victory at the Wichita division of the NASA International Space Apps Challenge.

Space Apps is an annual, international hackathon for developers and creatives of all backgrounds. The goal of the event is to bring together individuals from various backgrounds to help solve problems in space and back home on Earth.

“I felt very lucky,” Workentine said, when he was told he won first place. “Like, I stumbled upon this and got caught up with dumb luck, but I’m very happy and very excited.”

The challenge Workentine took on was “On the Way to the Sun.” His objective was to tell a creative story about the Parker Solar Probe’s mission to the Sun in a way that would be engaging to young audiences. The NASA challenge took place over two days, with roughly 36 hours available for participants to work on projects.

He took inspiration from the PBS children’s show, “Reading Rainbow” to create an illustrated video that humanized Parker as it sailed across the cosmos to touch the Sun’s surface.

“You never know where your next opportunity will be,” Workentine said. “Even if you don’t think you’re qualified, just give it your best shot. I was thinking to myself the whole time ‘even if I lose, I get six free meals and something to add to my portfolio,’ so just keeping an optimistic mindset when you’re trying to be creative and create projects is really important.”

After completing the project, Workentine was required to give a presentation to a panel of three industry professional judges from Flint Hill Resources, Solvay and Dassault Systèmes. They weren’t the only ones he impressed.

“Jacob won it by being the best at pitching his idea and being the best at starting from zero and ending up with a product which the judges loved and wanted to hear more about,” Andrew Hippisley, dean,  Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said. “So, am I surprised? In some ways not because this is what the Fairmount College does for their students.”

Participants at the event were encouraged to work in teams, but Workentine took the challenge on his own to clinch the first-place finish.

“The regret in some ways is that Jacob could have been in some other team and helped them win,” Hippisley said. “We have great engineers, we have great scientists, but we also have Jacobs as well who can enhance and enrich the experience for all and help a team go from second place to first place.”

Alongside a chance to pitch his idea to Dassault Systèmes in Boston, Workentine won a $500 gift certificate and a pair of Apple AirPods.

You can view Workentine’s final video project and his entire project submission online. Workentine will graduate in May 2023.