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Santa Monica Students Get Chance to Explore Careers in Space
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By Lookout Staff

May 2, 2016 -- More than 150 Santa Monica College students and faculty have applied for a program that will allow them to work as paid interns at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena this year, college officials announced last week.

The new ten-week Minority University Research and Education Program, Community College Curriculum Improvement, generally referred to as MC3I, will allow nine students and three faculty members to work on applied projects at JPL, the nation's leading U.S. center for robotic exploration of the solar system.

“We were expecting maybe 20 applications,” said SMC Geology Professor Dr. Cara Thompson, Principal Investigator for the MC3I cooperative agreement. “Instead, we received 150.”

During the program, student interns will be placed on teams led by a JPL researcher and will collaborate on projects alongside graduate and post-doctoral students, officials said.

SMC faculty "will have a chance to engage in professional development that helps them stay current in their research field and pursue their own project proposals," college officials said.

In addition to the internships, SMC is "developing curriculum and math modules," as well as bringing experts to speak on campus and organizing tours of JPL, officials said.

MC3I is one of three programs offered by the college in collaboration with NASA and JPL that allow students training in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, commonly referred to as STEM, to get a first-hand look at careers in space exploration.

One of the programs, NASA’s National Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS)features a five-week online course that culminates in a four-day onsite experience at JPL and other NASA centers, officials said.

The program allows students to participate in an exercise "that reflects what an actual NASA team does," create a mock proposal and compete to design, build and test a LEGO Mars robotic rover, officials said.

Three of the eight SMC students selected in April will head to JPL, while the other five will go to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, CA, officials said.

“There's a misconception that NASA is only interested in Harvard or MIT graduates” says Alicia Baturoni Cortez, program manager for NCAS at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “We do want them, but we are also interested in people who are passionate about space exploration, and who are really good in their chosen field.

"We bring in community college students who may have watched a shuttle launch on TV as children, and show them that working for NASA is a realistic goal, even if they never dreamed it was attainable,” she said.

The other program offered by SMC in collaboration with NASA and JPL, called SIRI,
pairs students with a JPL scientist or engineer for a semester-long, credit-based internship at JPL.

The interns are nominated by SMC faculty and selected by JPL mentors "to work in-depth on a particular research project, officials said.

A minimum GPA of 3.0 is required for all three programs, but STEM faculty members encourage “students who are eager to learn, and who realize what an opportunity JPL presents them with” to inquire about the programs, officials said.

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