The NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars program was everything three Onondaga Community College students could have hoped for, and then some. “The whole experience was super rewarding. It was really cool to see so many people who were passionate about what they were doing,” said Nathan Burroughs (Homer HS, 2016).
Burroughs, Wayne Ennis (Corcoran HS, 2007), and Rebecca Agosto Matos (East Syracuse Minoa 2017) were members of a select group of community college students chosen to visit NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia April 14 to 17. Their adventure began much earlier in the semester when they participated in a related five-week online activity. “The time we needed to commit was definitely worth the experience on the back end,” said Ennis. “To complete the work in advance you have to have persistence,” added Dr. Fred Jaquin, a Chemistry and Physical Science Professor at OCC who oversees the NASA program on campus. “You have to have a schedule and get things done on time. You have to be committed.”
Students were put to work the moment they arrived at the Langley Research Center. They were divided into teams of 10 and no group contained students from the same college. Each team was assigned a mentor who was a NASA employee. “We were handed a box of parts and had five or six hours to build a robot. Ready? Set? Go! There was a competition at the end of the day and in the middle of the day we had to take a break and go on a tour,” said Burroughs. “The first day was stressful but we worked together and got through it,” added Matos. “It was fun. We worked through it and everything went very well,” said Ennis.
Throughout their time at Langley the students had several opportunities to interact with NASA professionals and learn from them. “I thought most of the people at NASA would have a masters or Ph.D. There were people there who had associate and bachelor’s degrees too. It was open to people from all different levels,” said Matos. “We had a talk with the Deputy Director of the Langley facility and he said he had been there 20 years which was about half of the normal career at NASA. Usually people retire after 40, 50, 60 years because they’re so passionate about what they do. It just blew me away,” added Ennis.
All three students are in their final semester at OCC and all agree the NASA experience reaffirmed they are on the right academic path. “I always knew I wanted to be a Mechanical Engineer. Going there solidified it for me,” said Burroughs. “This gave me more motivation to pursue my major. Our mentor was a Mechanical Engineer who was researching friction to understand more about launching spacecraft. It’s something I had never considered as a career,” added Ennis who is a Engineering Science major. “I’m a Mathematics & Science major. After I transfer, I’d like to backtrack credits and get an Engineering Science degree from here,” said Matos who hopes to attend Cornell in the fall.
NASA will host another Community College Aerospace Scholars program in the fall. Students interested in participating should contact Professor Jaquin at firstname.lastname@example.org. “It’s a great opportunity for students. In the next 10 years we’re going to be back on the moon. There’s going to be a lot of work in engineering and aerospace. There’s a lot of terrestrial work NASA does. They do a lot of satellite data analysis and lower level flight analysis and atmospheric sampling. There are and will be a lot of job opportunities,” said Jaquin.