CSM student and NCAS participant Cody Del Prato. Photo by David McLain.

CSM student and NCAS participant Cody Del Prato. Photo by David McLain.

This fall, over 300 students were invited to participate in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) Program at one of eight NASA centers. The NCAS Program encourages underserved and underrepresented students to complete a two-year degree or transfer to a four-year university to pursue a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) major. The program consists of a five week, non-credit online course and a four-day, hands-on workshop at a NASA center. Students learn about NASA’s missions and research during the online course, while the workshop immerses students in NASA’s unique facilities, culture and diverse workforce.

Out of the hundreds of students that were admitted, eight CSM students participated in the program. We’ve had the pleasure of speaking with two of the eight CSM students about their experiences.

After being led to the program by Laura Demsetz, dean of Creative Arts and Social Sciences at CSM, Cody Del Prato found that the NCAS Program reaffirmed his choices. Cody aspires to transfer to San Jose State University as an aerospace major, so the NCAS Program fed into his passions and showed him his potential. “I was up late nights, working on homework as well as assignments for the program, but it was well worth the effort. The program moves extremely fast but you get to work closely with faculty that are planning missions to Mars.” As a matter of fact, the interactive portion of the program required all students to design a Mars rover. Cody says, “Building a Mars rover was interesting because students have to remember that NASA wants to land on Mars in the next 20 to 25 years. With a Mars mission in mind, all students were required to design a rover that was completely unique and original. This experience was extremely inspiring and put the wind in my sail, since we had full access to state-of-the-art facilities, knowledgeable staff and hands-on workshops.” Cody plans to continue on to grad school to study fluids, once he completes his undergraduate, and is playing with the idea of pursuing a PhD. He’s open to working in several different fields, such as aeronautics or automotives, and would also love to work with NASA again.

Daniel Bryant became familiar with the NCAS Program through an email from astronomy professor Darryl Stanford. Daniel was curious of where the program would take him and is glad he took that chance. He found that the program allowed him to learn in a setting outside of the classroom: “When we weren’t working on our rovers, we’d tour the facility and listen to lectures led by NASA scientists, engineers and other employees. The program definitely heightened my knowledge of the aerospace field. I also walked away with a general understanding of subjects that I hadn’t been familiar with such as computer programming and robotics.” Aside from expanding his knowledge on aerospace, Daniel found that participating in the program was a great way to increase his network. He was able to build professional relationships with seasoned professionals, such as NASA scientists, engineers, employees and fellow students. “The NCAS Program not only helped strengthen our networks, but also helped strengthen our resumes and mentors spoke with us about future internship opportunities. The program also allowed me to narrow down my career paths to either astrophysics or robotics engineering.”

Now that the NCAS Program has come to a close, Cody and Daniel agree that the NCAS Program is valuable for any STEM student. Cody says, “I encourage all STEM students to apply to the program because you’ll never know where it will lead you. There’s a misconception that students who receive admission into the program must be engineering majors but that’s not true: NASA welcomes students who have a desire to learn new things.” Daniel says, “As a STEM major, the NCAS Program was a great way to receive first-hand experience and get my foot in the door. I recommend any student who has the opportunity to participate in the program to take it. I had an excellent experience, so I’m sure other students will enjoy it as well.”

For students who would like to learn more about the NCAS Program, please visit nas.okstate.edu/ncas. The application for fall 2017 opens on Wednesday, March 1, 2017 and closes on Thursday, June 1, 2017. Please forward all questions to JSC-NCAS@mail.nasa.gov.