Columbiana County Rising Scholar’s NASA HUNCH team includes (front, from left) Joy Carpenter, mentor; Lamar Salter; Miles Reynolds; Dr. Jessica Paull, Rising Scholars coordinator; and (back, from left) Grace Huddlestun, mentor; Jose Garcia III; Karrin Diegdio; Vixx Mohrbacher; and Elizabeth Mostella, mentor. (Submitted photo)

A team of Rising Scholars from Kent State Columbiana County earned a spot in the finals of the NASA HUNCH culinary competition at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The scholars will compete with teams from around the country on April 17 to determine if their culinary creation will be a future meal selection for astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

The students qualified for the trip to Texas following a preliminary competition in February at which they presented their seafood rice dish to a panel of judges, following months of research and testing.

The winning team members who participated in the preliminary competition include Jose Garcia III and Miles Reynolds of East Liverpool High School; Lamar Salter of Salem Junior/Senior High School; Vixx Mohrbacher of Crestview High School; and Karrin Diegdio of United Local Schools.

The High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware (HUNCH) program was launched by NASA in 2003 with three schools. Today, hundreds of high schools across the country are involved with its project-based learning programs through which students learn skills and find career opportunities. The Culinary Arts Challenge is one of several categories.

“The culinary arts program teaches students how the body processes food in space and how this impacts the nutritional requirements for astronauts,” explained Dr. Jessica Paull, Rising Scholars coordinator. “Students had to create a recipe that fulfills the nutritional requirements while maintaining its flavor. Preparing food to eat in space is not easy.”

Each year, NASA provides a new theme for its culinary challenge and this year it required students to create a savory breakfast item that includes a vegetable.

The first phase of the program was learning about food processing/food science and how the body’s response to microgravity affects the astronauts’ nutritional needs in space. Students had to research and learn about different methods of processing food for microgravity; how the entrÈe would be reconstituted for eating in space; and the physiological changes that cause astronauts to need additional fiber, low sodium, certain calories and flavorful foods.

NASA reported that 33 different schools across the country created entrees that were judged locally by food industry personnel and community members. After those preliminary competitions, eight teams with the highest scores were invited to the Johnson Space Center for a final competition that will be judged by NASA’s food lab personnel, industry professionals, astronauts and representatives from the International Space Station program office.

The winning entry will be processed by the Johnson Space Center lab and sent up to the space station for astronauts to enjoy.

Other team members who participated with the project include Nathan McMichael and Victoria Jackson of Leetonia High School; Addysin Andrenok and Vaida Jo Willis of Southern Local; and Sylas Johnson of Salem Junior/Senior High School.

Serving on the judges panel for the Columbiana County Rising Scholars’ presentation were Sebastian Chomczyk of Sabi’s Restaurant; Josh and Alyvia Congelio of Lariccia’s Italian Marketplace and Food Trailer; Eric and Valerie Cross from the Garwood Grill; Dr. Rachael Blasiman of Kent State University; Sheri Kuzmiak from the Kent State Bistro; Erica Raymond of Raymond’s Ice Cream Parlor; Maegan Richards of Kent State University; and Dr. Diane McElwain from NASA HUNCH.

Rising Scholar mentors who worked with the culinary competition team include Joy Carpenter, Elizabeth Mostella, Grace Huddlestun, Olivia Rice and Blaine McCurdy.

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