When Professor of Astronautics Mike Gruntman signs on to teach his online Distance Education Network (DEN) course, he knows that this is not a typical class. Some people who attend are not showing up on the platform for a degree or grades—but for hope, taking advantage of a unique opportunity offered by the Viterbi School.
The students logging on in Gruntman’s masters-level astronautical engineering course, are a mix of final-year undergrad and grad students, as well as faculty members from Lviv Polytechnic National University and a couple of former students of Dnipro National University in Ukraine. They are logging on from a country at war.
Ukraine, says Gruntman, who is an elected member of the International Academy of Astronautics, cultivated space and rocket industry from the times of the Cold War. Its legacy of space innovation is currently being destroyed by the war. Says Gruntman, “In the past, the country had an industry that produced numerous rockets and space launchers and built more than one thousand satellites.”
But while the students, and faculty may not be able to immediately apply their skills in an industry that has been decimated, the course, focused on fundamentals of space systems, is an effort to help Ukrainians rebuild. While his intention is to extend humanitarian aid to Ukraine via education, and to maintain the brain trust that has been cultivated in country, Gruntman is keenly aware that students who participate are the same people who are confronted daily with memorials of colleagues tragically lost through the war.
It is not clear now how many among initial dozen participants from Ukraine will be able to follow the lectures, submit homework, and/or pass the exams under incredible hardship. The hope is that some will persevere, and some will audit, Gruntman said.
In addition, to learning about space, he also believes that exposure to DEN@Viterbi, this year celebrating 50 years of remote and hybrid learning, will provide an opportunity to learn about best practices in online engineering education.