Students Selected to Study with NASA Scientists and Engineers at JPL

Compton College students Diana Fregoso-Sanchez, Horacio Iturriaga, and Tori Barron Yates spent four days in early fall at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, participating in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) onsite experience. They were among more than 300 community college students from across the country selected to take part in the program, which offers a summer and spring session each year.

"Going to JPL through the NCAS program was one of the most enjoyable things I've done in college so far," said Iturriaga, who is a mechanical engineering major hoping to someday work in automobile design. "I'm so grateful for the opportunity to be exposed to a real world engineering operation. I never expected to be introduced to this type of program and learning experience."

The NCAS program begins with a five-week online course leading up to a four-day program at a NASA center, offering students the opportunity to interact with NASA engineers and other subject matter experts to learn about the different types of careers available in science and engineering. While at NASA, students work in teams, create fictional companies, and participate in Mars exploration simulations. Each team's "company" is tasked with forming a company infrastructure, managing a budget, developing and testing a prototype rover for Mars exploration, and planning communications and outreach.

"My team's goal was to design and build a rover out of Legos with a mission to retrieve rocks or pick up other rovers," said Yates, a civil engineering major interested in architecture who hopes to design and build her own home in the future. "We then had to sell our design and business plan through a PowerPoint presentation to companies interested in investing in it. I was the financial person for our fictional company."

All three students were introduced to this program through Compton College's Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) Center. "One of the MESA Center's goals is to expose students to STEM careers and fields by helping them apply to internships and activities like NCAS," said Lorena Fonseca, Compton College MESA Center program specialist. "Not many students are aware that opportunities like NCAS are available for community college students. We encourage Compton College students interested in STEM careers to apply for this program because it can open doors to future careers at NASA or other top engineering companies."

Fregoso-Sanchez is an adult learner with a bachelor's degree in geology that enrolled at Compton College to prepare to transfer into a master's program in civil engineering. She saw this internship as an excellent opportunity to gain exposure in the field she wants to work in and to build professional network connections. "After earning my bachelor's degree in geology, it was difficult to find work in my chosen career," she said. "I want to find more sustainable solutions for water resources locally and worldwide. One presenter at NCAS is working on these solutions. NASA and JPL are working on all kinds of technology and engineering solutions to many of the world's challenges."

For more information about the NCAS program and to apply, visit Students interested in STEM fields are also encouraged to join the Compton College's MESA Center. Visit the college website for more information at

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