Preparing for Takeoff

OCC Lazernaut team members use a chemical reaction to create a comet-like surface to test the anchoring device they have created.

OCC’s NASA Team is on the brink of the trip of a lifetime. In May six students will travel to NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. They’ll bring with them a device they’ve created which astronauts will use in an underwater experiment. “As we work on this project we’re experiencing what a real work environment is like,” said team co-leader Natalia Montilla. “We’re all playing important roles, making sure we’re hitting deadlines and everything is working. We’re really excited to go.”

Planning began last October when OCC was selected to be one of more than two dozen teams which would submit designs for tools or devices which astronauts would use during explorations. Most of the schools selected were prestigious four-year college and universities with large budgets. Only three community colleges were selected.

OCC’s six-person team named itself the “Lazernauts.” They began working on an anchoring device that would hold packages on the surface of a comet, asteroid or small moon. Team co-leader Brian Richardson used a computer program to design a hand-powered auger. It needed to meet specific size, weight and strength specifications.

The Lazernauts used a 3-D printer to create an auger made out of Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene, or ABS plastic. It’s the type of material used to make Lego’s. Each design was thoroughly tested and analyzed. Throughout the process the team stayed in touch with a NASA Astronaut who served as their team mentor. The astronaut gave advice and made sure they were staying on schedule.

The Lazernauts also created a hard substance for the auger to drill into which would simulate the surface of a comet or small planet. The process included the mixing of dry ice with hot water, creating the type of fog show you might see at a concert.

Throughout the next month-and-a-half OCC’s team will continue to test and tweak their design. They are also doing public outreach, making presentations to clubs and libraries about their efforts. In April WSYR-TV Newschannel 9 came to campus and did a story on OCC’s NASA Team for that evenings 6pm newscast. You can view the story here.

When they travel to Houston the Lazernauts will watch an astronaut dive into a 40-foot-deep pool and attempt to use their auger in wet sand. The astronaut will wear a GoPro camera. The OCC students will be in a control room, communicating with the astronaut.

OCC’s Lazernauts are:

  • Natalia Montilla, team co-leader               Nottingham High School
  • Brian Richardson, team co-leader             Liverpool High School
  • Nathan Johnson                                            Homeschooled
  • Allan O’Mara                                                  Homeschooled
  • Neil Minet                                                       Marcellus High School
  • Doug Weaver                                                  Chittenango High School

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Our NASA Team

OCC's NASA Team is (standing left to right): Doug Weaver, Brian Richardson, Natalia Montilla, Nathan Johnson, Neil Minet and Allan O'Mara. Seated is Dr. Fred Jaquin, Faculty Mentor.
OCC’s NASA Team is (standing left to right): Doug Weaver, Brian Richardson, Natalia Montilla, Allan O’Mara, Neil Minet and Nathan Johnson. Seated is Dr. Fred Jaquin, Faculty Mentor.

NASA needed ideas. The organization sent out a nationwide request asking college students to submit designs for tools or devices which astronauts would use during exploration. Proposals were due by November 1. NASA reviewed the ideas and selected more than two dozen colleges and universities to participate in the project.

The list included prestigious four-year schools like Cornell University, Columbia University and Rochester Institute of Technology. There were also three two-year schools chosen including Onondaga Community College. “We’re all pretty proud of this,” said OCC team co-leader Brian Richardson. “Sometimes there can be a stigma towards community colleges. This shows that stigma has no validity.”

Richardson played a key role in the selection process. In the spring 2016 semester he was one of five OCC students chosen to participate in NASA’s Community College Aerospace Scholars Program. Richardson took part in special courses and traveled to a NASA facility where he worked side-by-side with engineers.

During the fall semester he was contacted about another opportunity. “I received an email from NASA about this project asking if we’d like to try it out.” Richardson asked Chemistry and Physical Science Chair Dr. Fred Jaquin if he would be the faculty mentor. “I agreed to do it. Brian said he would work on putting a team of students together and creating a proposal,” said Jaquin.

NASA’s project was called Micro-g NExT. The term “Micro-g” represented a very low gravity environment. “NExT” stood for Neutral buoyancy Experiment design Teams. NASA needed student teams to submit designs for one of three things:

  • An anchoring device that would hold packages on the surface of a comet, asteroid or small moon.
  • A surface sampling tool astronauts would use to scoop up surface soil samples from the aforementioned bodies.
  • A sub-surface sampling device that would maintain the stratigraphy of the cored sample.

Richardson assembled a team of six students. They submitted a proposal for an anchoring device which would hold packages on the surface of a comet, asteroid or small moon. “It will be a manually operated auger-like device which comes with very specific design requirements,” said Jaquin. For example, the device must fit in a 10-inch by 10-inch by 18-inch box. It cannot have any sharp edges protruding which could damage an astronaut’s suit. It also must be neutrally buoyant so if the astronaut lets go of it underwater it won’t sink or float to the top.

The proposal also required a community outreach plan and a budget which would cover manufacturing costs. In early December OCC’s team got the news it was hoping for. Its proposal had been selected. “It was very exciting,” said Jaquin.

Being selected means OCC’s team will be traveling to Texas in May. Students will spend four days at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab at the Johnson Space Center in Houston where they will see astronauts use what they have designed. Team members will stand side-by-side with NASA Engineers and students from colleges across the country. Between now and then students will be working on designing and testing their device. NASA has given all of the participating colleges and universities a strict timeline to follow throughout the process.

Natalia Montilla is also the OCC team’s co-leader. She’s ready for the challenge that lies ahead. “This is a great opportunity for us to show what we can do coming from a community college in upstate New York. We see all of the top universities taking part in it. We’re excited to meet new people, meet NASA Engineers and learn what they do. We’re excited to go out there and use our minds.”

Below is a slideshow with each of the team members photos. Beneath that is a list of the colleges and universities selected to participate in NASA’s Micro-g NExT program.

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  • Alabama
  • Alaska-Anchorage
  • Arizona State
  • Art Institute of Seattle
  • University of Buffalo
  • UCLA
  • UC-Riverside
  • Coastal Bend College
  • Columbia
  • Cornell
  • Embry-Riddle
  • Grand Valley State
  • Illinois
  • Kapiolano CC
  • Maryland
  • Nebraska
  • Ohio State
  • Old Dominion
  • Onondaga Community College
  • Purdue
  • Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Salt Lake CC
  • Texas A&M
  • Univ of Texas at Dallas
  • Univ of Texas at El Paso
  • Univ of Texas at Rio Grande Valley
  • Virginia Tech
  • Wentworth Institute of Technology

December Graduation

GROUP PIC of December GradsStorer Auditorium was filled with friends, family and well-wishers Wednesday night as December graduates were honored during a Recognition Ceremony.

Amanda Guereschi
Amanda Guereschi

Graduating student Amanda Guereschi addressed her classmates. She reflected on her journey both as a person and a student. She thanked her professors for the critical role they played in her development. “The faculty at Onondaga Community College has never disappointed me with their ability to be both teacher and student,” she said. “They have always been open to opinion, imagination, and good discussion, encouraging me to find my truth. So my answer to this life, my truth I found here has come organically with the aid of our teachers. They have guided me to challenge myself to explore which has brought me good grades and two wonderful transfer opportunities, and hopefully further degrees and a job that fills me with passion but success is left for us to define as individuals.” Guereschi is a 2003 alum of Chittenango High School who majored in Liberal Arts and Humanities with an Honors minor. She was a member of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa and the Politics Club. She will transfer to either Syracuse University or Le Moyne College for the spring 2016 semester.

The night also featured the presentation of a special award. James F. Holland, Executive Vice President of SRC, Incorporated received an honorary doctorate degree for his numerous contributions to the College. This is the highest form of recognition offered by the State University of New York to persons of exceptional distinction.

OCC’s signature Music program had a significant role in the ceremony. Associate Professor Music David J. Rudari, D.M.A. performed the National Anthem at the beginning of the event and the Alma Mater at the end. Also the OCC Guitar Ensemble performed Remembrance by Professor of Mathematics Joseph Browne.

Congratulations to our December 2015 graduates!

The Guitar Ensemble (left to right): Brad Butler, Benjamin Jones, Geoffrey Schermerhorn and Dr. Kenneth Meyer.
The Guitar Ensemble (left to right): Brad Butler, Benjamin Jones, Geoffrey Schermerhorn and Dr. Kenneth Meyer.

SUNY Student Art Awards

Five OCC students will have have their art work on-display in the New York State Museum this summer. It’s part of the annual Best of SUNY Student Art Awards which were handed out June 9 at the New York State Museum in Albany.

The Best of SUNY exhibit features 84 works of art chosen by individual art departments across SUNY’s campuses. It includes drawings, paintings, photography, sculpture and digitally produced works. The SUNY system includes 64 college and university campuses.

OCC’s five students whose work can be viewed at the museum are:

  • Michael Currier, Tully High School
  • Greg Minix, Marathon Central School
  • Zachary Ross, Skaneateles High School
  • Daniel Sanchez, Moravia High School
  • Ameilee Sullivan, Chittenango High School

Sanchez’s untitled art work is at the top of this story.

Amanda Corp

A decade after graduating from high school the future is looking bright for Amanda Corp. She was recently inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. Corp is also a member of the National Society for Leadership and Success. Faculty selected her to be the Nursing department’s Student Representative.

Corp’s journey has been a long one. She graduated from Chittenango High School in 2004 and immediately started taking classes at OCC. A short time later she transferred to a four-year school but realized it wasn’t a good fit.

In 2013 she returned to OCC a different person. She was a mother of three focused on succeeding. “As a mom I have a lot more riding on school now. It’s not just for me, it’s for my children too.

Corp has started working as a Nursing Assistant on the intrapartum floor at Crouse Hospital and hopes to become an RN on that floor after graduating from OCC in May 2015. Her long-term plan is to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees and become either a certified registered nurse anesthetists, a nurse practitioner or a nurse midwife and start her own practice.

Corp credits OCC with providing her the opportunity to pursue her dreams. “I love it here. The professors are great. You can always talk to them and ask for help. It’s why I decided to come back here.”