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Fresno City College student Gabriella (Christi) Gonzalez participated in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) Virtual Experience, March 1-11, 2021. Gonzalez had successfully completed a five-week online NCAS course earlier this spring which earned her a spot to participate in the NCAS Virtual Experience. The event gave community college students the opportunity to learn more about NASA and explore STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers by completing a challenging group project.
“During the time I was doing it, it was hard and difficult. I do have a sense of empowerment now. If I survived that, I can survive a lot of things,” she said of her experience.
Gonzalez was one of 104 community college students from across the country to participate in the nine-day virtual experience. She is a chemical engineering major in her last semester at Fresno City College. The single mother of a 5-year old daughter is hoping to transfer to a University of California campus with Berkeley or UCLA being at the top of her list and maybe go in to the water quality field. She is a member of the Women in Engineering club whose faculty advisor, Nell Papavasiliou, encouraged Gonzalez to apply for the NASA opportunity.
Gonzalez was project director of a 12-person team whose assignment was to design a mission to explore the moon with each member assigned a different task. Her team was selected as the top team and she was selected by the team mentor (a NASA employee) as the team’s MVP. The task was made more difficult because the team couldn’t meet in-person, but instead met over Zoom. Even the usual tour of Houston’s unique facilities was virtual with each student receiving a virtual reality headset.
Going into the experience, Gonzalez said she really didn’t know what to expect, but was excited and open to whatever she was going to have to face. In the end, she says she now sees NASA differently as well as her career choice in STEM.
“What was really emphasized with this program is they want community college people and they want people of a diverse nature. This way, you might think of a problem in a different way. The diversity was really neat, especially in this time when you kind of feel lonely and isolated. I was able to talk to students from other parts of California and talk to mentors with different life experiences and I learned so much. I just see things differently now,” she said.
The Minority University Research and Education Program, or MUREP, funds NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars. MUREP commits to engaging underrepresented and underserved students in STEM fields with authentic learning experiences to sustain a diverse workforce.
With this activity, NASA continues the tradition of engaging the nation in its mission of human exploration and sustainable expansion across the solar system and bringing new knowledge and opportunities back to Earth.