If you ever find yourself as a contestant on “Jeopardy” and the answer on the board is “He hails from Tar Heel, lives in Raeford, works in Lumberton and is working to solve world hunger,” the category will probably be “Scientists Extraordinaire.” The correct question? Who is Steven Singletary, Science department lead and instructor at Robeson Community College?
Singletary and some partners recently completed a contract with the United Nations World Food Program to deliver 800 metric tons of food to isolated and war-torn parts of Africa where normal channels of distribution are almost impossible.
Skylife, an Ohio-based company, began delivering food by air to Haiti in an effort to help victims of an earthquake there in 2008. Skylife had developed “pop top” boxes that would open upon deployment from an aircraft and the foodstuffs could then “flutter” to the ground.
Officials from the UN World Food program saw what Skylife was doing and approached it to use similar technology in Sudan to deliver food directly to those in need, thereby bypassing warlords who would often intercept and co-opt for their own use goods shipped by traditional means.
Unfortunately the UN wanted to drop cooking oil and other fragile cargo and the technology developed by Skylife was not suitable, resulting in damage to the payloads they were dropping. A company known as Rampart Aviation was flying the payloads under contract for Skylife and the staff at Rampart knew Singletary and suggested that Skylife talk to him. Singletary, who has been jumping out of airplanes for over 20 years, is a certified accelerated free-fall instructor and FAA certified senior parachute rigger. Singletary will soon have a master’s in Aeronautical Engineering from North Carolina State University to add to his bachelor’s degree in Math and Computer Science from UNCP, master’s in Geology from Texas Christian University and doctorate in Geochemistry from MIT.
So Singletary began by re-engineering the design with which Skylife was working and then engineered a complete new design. He was able to take them from 15 percent success rate in drops to around 99.5 percent success rate, which resulted in the successful completion of the 800-metric-ton contract for the UN.
The UN was so pleased with the results of the project that it is now negotiating a larger contract in Sudan and would like to add another base of operations to drop supplies in Ethiopia. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has also learned of Singletary’s work and has expressed interest in using his technology to drop food in areas affected by natural disasters. Skylife has inventory in Africa and the United States and all of the U.S. inventory is currently in Florida to be delivered to Puerto Rico.
There is another plus to this story. While the parachutes were originally being manufactured in China, Singletary has arranged for production to move to Hoke County under the direction of Hoke-based company Paraclete.
Now, remember that all of this is a sideline for Singletary. His day job is running the Science department and teaching chemistry classes at Robeson Community College. Singletary doesn’t spend his days in a lab doing research at RCC; he spends his days working with students. You or your college-aged child can benefit from direct interaction with Singletary and other professionals like him simply by enrolling. Classes for our spring semester begin on Jan. 8 and we have two new student orientation days remaining on Dec. 6 and Jan. 3.
To find out more about how to enroll, contact our admissions department at 910-272-3342 or visit online at www.robeson.edu/admissions.
Dennis Watts is Public Relations officer at RCC.