Lucia Cisneros (back row, red shirt, third from right) and Kyla Reedy (front row, blue shirt third from left) took part in a community college program organized by NASA. Parker Brooks (pictured below) attended the same program the following week. Photographer: Allison Bills
Space may be the final frontier, but three Collin College students recently took part in a NASA program that allowed them to do some exploration of their own and introduced them to new career possibilities.
Parker Brooks and Kyla Reedy, both of McKinney, and Lucia Cisneros of The Colony, traveled to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in April and May to participate in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars project (NCAS).
The four-day visit to the Johnson Space Center was the culmination of a five-week program in which students completed online orientations and teamwork activities with participants across the country and NASA engineers/scientists, planning a mission to Mars. While at NASA, the students formed teams and established fictional companies interested in Mars exploration. Each team developed and tested a prototype rover, formed a company infrastructure, managed a budget and developed communications and outreach strategies.
The on-site experience at NASA included tours of facilities and briefings by NASA subject matter experts. The students had the opportunity to interact with NASA engineers and others as they learned more about careers in science and engineering.
“I think I slept 12 hours the whole time I was there,” Cisneros said, joyously recounting the packed schedule and late nights working on her group project with her team. “I didn’t want to go to sleep while I was there. It was just such a great environment, being around people with common interests.”
Cisneros said the trip was eye-opening in several ways. A student assistant at the Preston Ridge Campus testing center who is pursuing a career in biochemistry, Cisneros said she wasn’t sure she would get much out of a program which attracts mostly engineering students.
“At first, I thought, ‘Why am I even here?’ But by the end of the program, I saw that there are so many different programs that NASA has,” Cisneros said. “I knew (going in) that I wanted to do biochemistry, but this really piqued my interest in the technology that we can use to understand microorganisms better.”
NASA employs scientists of all disciplines because of its wide range of responsibilities. Studying the processes on earth are critical to creating similar processes in space, providing future explorers with the knowledge they will need to survive and thrive. To that end, the space agency employs not only engineers, mathematicians and astrophysicists, but also biologists, ecologists, meteorologists, geologists and a wide range of other scientists.
Reedy, who plans to graduate with a focus in geology, said she was also pleased to learn about all of the opportunities available to people interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers. Reedy said that the program served almost like a four-day interview for a job. The students who participated were monitored for their teamwork and problem-solving abilities. Program administrators explained that if the students did well and chose to pursue a career with NASA, the records of their activities would play a part in the agency’s internship selection and hiring processes.
Even without that motivation, Reedy said her project team was full of focused individuals who wanted to do well.
“Working with my team was my favorite part (of the program),” she said. “Whenever I have done group work in the past, I haven’t had a 100 percent functional group. There was always one person who slacked off or didn’t do their part of the work. That wasn’t the case this time.
“We solved the problems and got things done together.”
Reedy, who is 48, is focusing on a second career in geology and would like to get a job with the U.S. Geological Survey, helping people prepare for earthquakes or other severe weather events. That does not mean she wouldn’t consider a career with NASA, however.
“(The program) showed me what working for NASA would be like,” Reedy said. “The people we met are excited about working there. You could walk up to anyone and ask what they do, and they were eager to tell you.”
That kind of enthusiasm can be infectious, and Brooks, who attended the camp the week after Cisneros and Reedy, was impressed by the people and the campus. He enjoyed seeing the scientists’ and engineers’ workspaces, which he likened to something you would see on the Google campus.
“It was really a cool work environment,” Brooks said. “I know that there is some serious stuff going on there, but there were a lot of things that were conducive to creativity at the Johnson Space Center.”
Brooks is working his way toward an engineering associate degree at Collin. He said their group talked to numerous NASA employees who had gone to community college as well.
“There was a surprising number of people who were in community college at 30 years old and didn’t know what they wanted to do,” he said. “They told us a lot of stories about how they got themselves together and made it to NASA.”
Brooks said he has always been passionate about space exploration and robotics, but this program has stoked his interest even more.
“Originally, I thought it would be cool to work for NASA, but after visiting, I feel like this is where I definitely want to end up someday,” he said.
For additional information about the National Community College Aerospace Scholars program, contact JSC-NCAS@mail.nasa.gov or call 281.483.0493 to learn more.