RoundupReads Community college students journey to Mars

Community college students journey to Mars

NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) is an opportunity for community college students to explore science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) career paths within NASA. The program consists of two phases: a five-week online session to provide scholars with a foundation of knowledge about Mars exploration, and an all-expenses-paid three-day workshop at a NASA center.
The online session contains three modules, supplemented with live video chats with a NASA expert, where applicants learn about past, present and future Mars missions. At the on-site workshop, scholars work in teams to form a fictitious company competing to win a NASA contract for the next Mars mission. It’s not all work, though. Scholars also tour the NASA center, listen to passionate guest speakers and engage with enthusiastic NASA team members throughout the workshop. One past scholar stated, “I have a much stronger desire to not only pursue a career within aerospace, but also do what I can to raise awareness of the benefits and advancements that we stand to gain here on Earth.”
Last year, NASA hosted 235 students representing 155 community colleges in six NCAS workshops at Johnson Space Center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Marshall Space Flight Center in a cross-center collaboration. This year, NCAS will more than double the number of participants and add two new centers to host on-site workshops—Stennis Space Center and Armstrong Flight Research Center. The spring session has invited 241 scholars from 160 community colleges and will kick off its first of six workshops on March 25 at JSC. NCAS anticipates inviting the same number of scholars for its fall-session workshops, and is currently recruiting applicants.
“We are excited to expand opportunities for community college students interested in a NASA-related field or career,” said Program Manager Alicia Baturoni Cortez. “NCAS is a direct response to the president’s call in the 2013 CoSTEM report to enhance the STEM experience of undergraduate students.”
The program originally started as the Community College Aerospace Scholars in 2004, and only students of Texas community colleges were eligible to apply. In 2009, a separate program called National Community College Aerospace Scholars was introduced, and students attending community colleges across the nation were eligible to participate. In 2014, the two programs merged to improve efficiency and reduce costs and became the new NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars. NCAS is funded by the Minority Research Education Program, or MUREP, and the state of Texas.

Thaeng “Cat” Pate
NASA Johnson Space Center

NCAS scholars watch as the rover they built completes pre-programmed maneuvers around obstacles. Image Credit: NASA
An NCAS participant examines a moon rock as part of the NCAS on-site workshop. Image Credit: NASA
NCAS scholars and dedicated NASA mentors tour the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility. Image Credit: NASA