Students represent El Camino at NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars onsite experience


Zach Hatakeyama

Bryan Melara (left), 20 civil engineering major, Nigel Lipps, 20, computer science major, Jocelyn Molina, 23, chemistry major and Victor Cornejo, 19, bio engineering major, all attended the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars onsite experience at the Ames Research Center last week.

Over the course of four days, they followed the same routine: waking up at 6 a.m. to a view of darkness outside of their window, spending all day designing a mars rover and then returning to the same view of darkness at 1 a.m., overcome with exhaustion. To this set of EC students, there was no place they would rather be.

Last week, EC students Victor Cornejo, 19, bio engineering major, Nigel Lipps, 20, computer science major, Bryan Melara, 20, civil engineering major and Jocelyn Molina, 23, chemistry major, had the opportunity to attend the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars onsite experience

At the event, which took place at the Ames Research Center outside of San Jose, CA, 171 community college students from around the country were broken up into groups and given the task to design the best mars rover they could in the time span of four days.

Melara described the conference as “a blast,” and enjoyed the group work that the students engaged in.

“The main objective of this program was to show people that NASA is all teamwork, which is why they divided us up into groups and compete,” Melara said. “All of us had a role and everybody on that team had a hand in the final presentation.”

In order to participate in the event, each student needed to turn in a submission and two letters of recommendation. After they were selected, they completed a five-week course and were chosen based off of their scores.

To Melara, the connections and mentors he came in contact with at the event was the most valuable takeaway from the event.

“The best part of it was seeing people who started out like us, in a community college, and then now they work for NASA,” Melara said. “It was only four days long but we formed a really strong bond. We had great networking experiences through the mentors and the guest speakers.”

Cornejo also found value in the networking opportunities and career information he gained.

“It was really informative. You got to learn a lot about how we can further our progress with NASA and informed us on internships and how we can apply to get jobs,” Cornejo said.

Molina, too, had an eye opening experience at the onsite experience.

“What I loved about it most was that you got to see different roles people have in NASA because when you think of it, you only think of STEM but we actually got to hear from a lawyer and other people in the program which was really eye opening,” Molina said. “When you think of NASA, you think of Harvard, Stanford and all these prestigious schools, but you never hear about community colleges.”

While she felt readily prepared for the conference, Molina was struck with nerves during the beginning of the conference.

“You come into the competition and you are really scared but I think what helped me the most was the fact that I was in the same boat as everyone else. We all pulled it off. Everyone did. It was awesome to see that,” she said.

Out of the main objectives of the onsite experience, a common one the all the students picked up on was the importance of teamwork.

“It was such a competitive environment but it was a friendly competition. If you needed help and everyone in your team didn’t know what to do, you could go to another team and they would be willing to help you,” Lipps said.

Molina had a similar takeway.

“A big point was to show how crucial your role is in the group. If you mess up, it affects your whole team. It’s all about accountability,” she said.

All of the students felt proud to represent El Camino and for the fact that the college was the most represented college at the event with five attendees. Each of them believe that the experience had an impact on their future careers and have their own idea of where the direction of space exploration will take them.

“It felt really good representing El Camino College.” Cornejo said. “We’re not that well known, and it just feels great representing where you come from.”