Chandra Lopez had finished up her work on becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant through Rock Valley College’s nursing program when her grandmother asked her what her longer term goals were.
Chandra said she wasn’t sure, so her grandmother joked, “Well, you’ve always been good at math and science. You should be a rocket scientist.”
“I figured if you’re looking to see what it would take to be a rocket scientist, you’d go to NASA,” Chandra said. “So I did, and I saw a link that said, ‘for community college students.'”
She followed the link and learned about the five-week online NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars project (NCAS). Suddenly, the married mother of two–who is working as a CNA and going to college–found herself applying for the program.
Not only was she accepted, but she thrived. She’s been chosen as one of just 240 community college students from around the nation, and one of only three from Illinois, to travel to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for three days later in May for a hands-on training event.
For Lopez, who says she hasn’t done much traveling, the chance for an all-expenses paid trip to NASA is almost too good to be true.
“People dream about this, but never get to know this kind of opportunity,” Chandra said. “I’ve always been interested in stuff like this. When I was a kid I used to take computers apart and put them back together just to see how they worked. But I never got into the LEGO robotics stuff because I just didn’t think it was for me. But you shouldn’t let things like that stop you. Now I’m going to NASA. To be part of the future of space exploration is exciting. It’s the coolest thing in the world.”
While at NASA Chandra will have the opportunity to interact with NASA engineers and others as they learn more about careers in science and engineering.
The Community College Aerospace Scholars will be divided into teams and established fictional companies interested in Mars exploration. Each team is responsible for developing and testing a prototype rover, forming a company infrastructure, managing a budget, and developing communications and outreach.
The on-site experience at NASA includes a tour of facilities and briefings by NASA subject matter experts.
Chandra is pursuing her associate’s degree in science at RVC with an eye on engineering and robotics.
After five-weeks of online work, which included her first-ever foray into 3D modeling, Chandra says she’s ready to get hands-on at NASA.
“We’ll be using LEGO Mindstorms to build our rover for our team. I’m really excited to get working on that. Really, I’m just excited about this whole experience. It’s going be be incredible.”
To learn more about the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars visit: http://ncas.aerospacescholars.org/
Here’s Chandra talking about how she found out about NCAS.