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At age 5, Jason Silverman (from right) demonstrated his aerospace inclinations with his 3-year-old brother, Steven, and father, Alan.

Unionville grad taking his dreams to the edge of space

By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com

After years in pursuit of excellence, a 2011 Unionville High graduate started reaping his rewards well over a year ago: a slew of academic and music awards and acceptances at both Princeton and Stanford.

But there was a hitch: Jason Silverman really wanted to go to MIT, where he was first wait-listed and then rejected. Although the decision stung initially, it also propelled him onto an alternate path – one that honed his skills as a successful rebounder.

Silverman just completed his freshman year at the University of Southern California, where he received a full, four-year scholarship. This past week, he boarded a plane for China after being one of seven USC students selected to do research at Tsinghua University in Beijing for six weeks. Then it’s back to USC to pursue a separate Provost Fellowship project for the remainder of the summer.

In retrospect, the 19-year-old from Birmingham Township could not be happier with his college choice, but he acknowledged that forces beyond his control played a role in the outcome.

Fittingly, the attempt to control seemingly insurmountable forces defines Silverman’s dream: launching rockets. While some kids reach for the stars or long to be one, Silverman’s career trajectory aims for the planets. He said he has wanted to pursue astronautical engineering since the age of 5.

To explore that interest, he said his parents, Alan and Sharon Silverman, exposed him to materials that ultimately fueled his passion. “My parents would do things such as showing me videos of the Apollo program,” he said.

Jason Silverman works on the garden railway he built in the family's Birmingham Township back yard.

This past year, Silverman and a group of fellow USC students – regulars in the university’s Rocket-Propulsion lab – built and launched a rocket that went 62,000 feet into the air. Since then, they have tweaked and tested. Silverman said they hope to achieve 380,000 feet during a launch planned for the fall – one that requires FAA approval.

“It may take a few tries,” he said, adding that space is generally defined as starting beyond 300,000 feet.

Silverman said he briefly considered becoming an astronaut; however, that would force him to give up most of the engineering component – not an acceptable tradeoff.

One need look no further than the Silverman back yard to see evidence of his engineering predilection. An elaborate garden railway, complete with tunnels, buildings, bridges and a pond that attracts frogs, abuts the family’s deck. One section of the approximately 200 feet of track even traverses a corner of the deck.

Silverman started the project as a 4th-grader after a family visit to Longwood Gardens, which was featuring a garden railroad exhibit.

“He came home and said, ‘I have to have one of those,’” his mother, Sharon , recalled, pointing out that in the absence of “a garden-railway budget, “ he was going to have to figure out how to pay for it.

In addition to requesting Home Depot cards for birthdays and working at the local hardware store, her son was paid for articles he wrote chronicling the construction for Garden Railway Magazines, such as how to build a retaining wall, his mother said.

“Every year I like to add something new,” he explained.

His latest upgrade-in-progress is a 19-foot bridge, which is being constructed in the family’s basement. Needless to say, his lack of time at home has slowed the bridge’s completion, but its creator is not complaining.

“I’m glad things turned out the way they did,” he said.

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