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‘It always goes back to people’: Auburn rocketry team visits Children’s of Alabama

AUBURN — Alie Ana, Mila and Alexandra Reese were already part of the Auburn family.

However, on March 11, they left their mark on a group of Auburn Engineering students in multiple ways.

Members of the Auburn University Rocketry Association (AURA) visited Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham with subscale rockets, model rockets and golf balls for kids to paint. The materials were part of the design for AURA’s upcoming competitions in the Argonia Cup in Kansas (March 23-25) and the NASA University Student Launch Initiative in Huntsville (April 10-14).

(Auburn University Contributed)

Alie Ana, Mila and Alexandra are six years old and identical triplets. They painted rainbows, sun rays and encouraging messages for the AURA team for their upcoming ventures. The Reese triplets are a Miracle Family for the Alabama Children’s Hospital Foundation. According to Delaney Haase, community development coordinator at the Children’s of Alabama Foundation, Miracle Families are ambassadors for the hospital.

“They attend different events to be the faces of the patients and families we serve,” Haase said. They share their stories and connect with everyone across the state to help our partners connect more with the foundation’s mission and see what their community partnership is going toward and supporting.”

Children’s of Alabama is a private, non-profit facility and the only free-standing medical center in Alabama dedicated to the treatment and care of children.

Alexandra Reese focuses hard on painting materials for the Auburn University Rocketry Association as Suzie Feist, AURA outreach lead, looks on.

This was AURA’s second consecutive visit to the hospital. Susie Feist, AURA’s outreach coordinator, who participated in the previous year, said it serves as a reminder that engineering is about helping people.

“In engineering, it can be easy to miss the fact that it always goes back to people,” Feist said. “Getting to do this event with our club reminds the team that it is about people. We build rockets to learn, but it’s also to teach others.”

According to Becky Reese, the triplets’ mother, the Reese triplets were born at 30 weeks in 2018, each weighing less than two pounds. Alexandra wasn’t breathing at birth and had to be intubated, and Alie Ana was the smallest sibling but had the longest road to a healthy life.

“We’ve had a lot of time in speech, occupational and physical therapy to catch up, but they are strong and never stop fighting,” Reese said. “We are so thankful to the Children’s Hospital for that. We are where we are today because of Children’s.”

Becky Reese graduated from Auburn in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing, and her husband, Adam Reese, earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Auburn in 2005.

“When I see them having fun and getting to do something like this, it brings them so much joy. It reminds me that every day is a blessing and a gift,” Reese said. “When they were first born, we didn’t know what their future would look like, but here they are doing this incredible thing that not everyone gets to do. It’s just incredible.”

Jackson Miller, AURA’s testing lead, said the golf balls the children painted will be used during the Argonia Cup, which features the largest constructed rocket in the club’s history. The Argonia Cup requires teams to launch rockets higher than 8,000 feet, drop a golf ball close to a target, and safely recover the payload.

Mila Reese smiles while holding a paintbrush next to Jackson Miller, who is the testing lead for AURA.

Miller said the the event at Children’s of Alabama is much more than an outreach event for AURA. It’s something the team loves doing.

“It helps me realize that maybe we can make a difference by reaching out to people in the community and outside our own community,” he said. This may have a small impact on them, but hopefully, it makes their day better. Maybe it makes their week —I’m not sure, but if it’s giving them happiness — that’s worth it to me.”

Feist said AURA wants to show the younger generation that aerospace and rocketry are fun.

“We want to teach and inspire others to build rockets as well, and Children’s is one of the best places to do that,” she said.

Both the Children’s Foundation and AURA are interested in maintaining their relationship for many years to come.

“We are excited to keep it going, keep it growing and see what we can do with it in the future,” Haas said. “It will be fun to see how much bigger we can make it and continue to improve that relationship with AURA and Auburn University.”

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