NASA trip educates, prepares STEM students
Most students strive to someday work alongside professionals within their field of study.
For five South Plains College students, this goal was reached during a recent trip to NASA.
On Feb. 5, the STEM majors traveled to Houston to attend a three-day workshop at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, where they toured the facility and interacted with NASA engineers, educators, and astronauts.
These students are a part of the Community College Aerospace Scholars, a spring educational program where aspiring engineers work on projects and web-based assignments. Through the CAS program, students get the opportunity to participate in a fully-funded workshop at NASA JSC, utilizing their classroom knowledge in a professional work environment.
Students who apply for the CAS program are selected by NASA JSC. The five scholars selected this semester are Abbey Gonzales from Dimmitt, Nathan Clayton from Olton, Hector Canales from Levelland, Ezequiel Tovar Jr. from Lubbock and Jose Duran from Memphis.
The CAS program offers fun experiences and opportunities for the students. But applying for the program requires a lot of work and recommendations.
Canales, an astrophysics major, said there are specific requirements when applying to be an aerospace scholar.
“The application opened Sept. 5 and closed Oct. 15,” said Canales. “That pretty much required a letter of recommendation, up to 300 words from a STEM professor. Then we had to do 300 words on why this experience would be helpful for us. Once accepted, you had to do a five-week online program and do six quizzes.”
While a lot of work is put into the application process and the online program, a project is also required after being selected.
Clayton, a computer science major, said there are three categories to choose from for projects.
“I did the first category, which was a paper,” said Clayton. “You are given a set of five questions. You choose three of them, and you must write a two to 10-page paper on the information. I did the evolvable Mars campaign, where I chose to cover the natural resources on Mars.”
After completing these assignments and projects, scholars go to NASA JSC, where they interact with many NASA employees and work together to build a Mars rover.
The rover project requires the scholars to assign themselves different positions, such as financial officer, marketing and communications manager, designer and operations engineer, in order to build a rover to sell to a team of NASA officials.
According to Alan Worley, chairperson of the Math and Engineering Department at SPC, participating in the rover project and working at NASA is a great opportunity for students to utilize their education outside of the classroom.
“This gives them the opportunity to see what a real-world experience would be,” said Worley. “The main thing is that it opens doors for them.”
The opportunities and the experiences are the main perks the scholars said that the CAS program offers.
Duran, a mathematics major, said that his time at NASA JSC provided him with good memories and a quality educational experience.
“It was a fun experience,” said Duran. “I got to meet a lot of new people and got to interact with the NASA engineers.”
The experiences, people and places were all things that the scholars said they enjoyed while at NASA. But the future opportunities and privileges were also a major aspect of the workshop.
Gonzales, a computer science major, said she feels that working at NASA gave her a sense of the hospitality that is used in a professional work environment and how it is important for learning.
“It was really nice to see how down to earth NASA is,” said Gonzales. “They had a big promotion in their facility about families and diversity. It was really fascinating to learn the different types of people NASA is looking for.”
She also mentioned how the experience will help her in future endeavors.
“Having NASA somewhere on your resume at an early college level is so nice,” said Gonzales.
In addition to the project and the competition, the scholars also networked with many people. This helps when acquiring future connections and recommendations.
Tovar, a mechanical engineering major, interacted with many experienced people, such as Douglas Wong, a NASA engineer.
“I got to meet this engineer who ate with us on our first day,” said Tovar. “He’s an engineer who was looking for an intern, so I’ll be applying for the internship.”
This program is offered to any aspiring STEM student, as well as students with other majors who want to receive many opportunities to better their future.
“We encourage students to take advantage of this opportunity,” said Worley. “We think it is a beneficial experience, as a person and a student.”