Community college students get real life experience at Stennis Space Center

Community College students get real life experience at Stennis Space Center

STENNIS SPACE CENTER, MS (WLOX) - The engineers of tomorrow, working on the problems of today.

Dozens of engineers from community colleges around the country spent Wednesday at Stennis Space Center getting an up-close look some of the projects they may one day work on.

It was part of NASA's Community College Aerospace Scholars Event. The 42 students teamed up to build a miniature rover that had to perform various tasks as if it was actually on Mars.

Mitch Krell heads up the program, which has been going on for more than two decades.

"We take community college scholars from all over the country. They do an extensive five-week online program where they have to do some research," Krell said. "They go through different modules. They take tests. They do a project at the end. If they successfully do all that and they're in the top group of ones that do that, they get invited to an on-site NASA experience."

Krell says he sees this opportunity as a way to teach young people about the exciting challenges NASA deals with, as well as a way to look into the program's future of the program.

"We use this program to bring students into the NASA fold, the NASA family," he said. "And this is our method of recruiting the next generation."

The process seems to be working for Ryan Etheridge, who is from Collins, MS, East Central Community College.

"For me, I was always on the fence with cyber security or with programming like this," Etheridge said. "So coming to NASA and seeing all this stuff and programming rovers, you know, it really pushed me towards NASA and I'm thinking I'm probably going to lean towards NASA in my career choice."

Stephanie Popielarz of Elgin, IL, hopes to become an aerospace engineer. She says this trip has cemented that dream for her.

"It's amazing. We saw a rocket test just a couple of hours ago and it inspired me so much just to kind of follow what I've been doing and just give me the extra push to transfer to university," she said.

That's exactly what Krell hopes to accomplish with the program. "Some of the people who are going to be either going to Mars or developing stuff to go to Mars are sitting in this room right now," he said.

At the end of the program, each team completed drills with their robots in a friendly competition.

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