College of DuPage students Rachel Fry (Chicago) and Andrew Krall (Naperville) will travel to NASA's Langley Research Center in September as part of the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars project (NCAS).
Both students initially qualified for a five-week online scholars program and then were selected as two of 304 community college students from across the country to travel NASA. During the four-day visit, participants will form teams that will develop and test a prototype rover, creating a company infrastructure, managing a budget, and developing communications and outreach.
Participating in NCAS is an exciting opportunity for Fry, who initially joined the Navy after high school because she wasn't sure what to study in college. After finishing her service, she began taking classes toward an associate's degree while determining what career to pursue.
It was the development of Curiosity, the NASA-designed rover to explore Mars, that caught Fry's attention. She began to read everything she could about space exploration, and when Curiosity was landing on Mars in 2012, she attended a viewing party at Adler Planetarium.
"Everyone in the room was on the edge of their seats, and people were crying when Curiosity successfully touched down," she said. "It was an intense experience that made me realize how passionate I was about space exploration and the development of science and technology. I realized that I want to be part of a team that will advance space exploration and discovery."
During an Earth Science class for science majors, Fry learned about the NCAS program from her professor, Diana Strode.
"I was enjoying studying a subject that was related to what I want to do," she said. "Professor Strode saw this and knew that I might be interested in the NASA program."
Fry plans to earn her Associate in Science degree by the end of 2018. Her dream is to work as part of a science investigation team for planetary exploration, such as landing on Europa, a moon of Jupiter, or another moon that has liquid water.
She cannot say enough good things about her experience at College of DuPage.
"The barrier between students and professors does not exist at COD," she said. "I feel like I've developed a relationship with my professors, such as Diana Strode and Erich Hauenstein. They have worked in their fields and have excellent advice to share. Having their support means everything."
Krall learned about the NCAS program from Associate Professor of Physics Rumiana Nikolova.
"I didn't do well in physics in high school," he said. "Halfway through my pre-calculus course at College of DuPage, I was studying ellipses and learned that they can be used to calculate orbits. I started to see how everything connected together -- math and physics and space. It just snowballed from there. I even gave two speeches in speech class on space."
During the trip to NASA, Krall is looking forward to working with his team to plan a mission to mars and design a rover. Interestingly enough, Fry is on an opposing team.
Krall is majoring in Physics and would like to pursue a degree in aerospace engineering. He then would like to work for NASA or SpaceX.
"If I can't go to Mars or work on a rover that goes to Mars, I want to save the earth," he said. "It's a cultural thing with my generation. My friends and I always talk about what we can do to help the planet."
As for College of DuPage, he is amazed by the quality of his educational foundation.
"I've been able to take all of my gen eds and it's cool how flexible my schedule can be," he said. "I have so many options to pick and choose from, and this allows me to work and save money. I also didn't come to COD expecting to go to NASA, so the fact that I have this opportunity is exciting."
College of DuPage is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Serving approximately 28,000 students each term, College of DuPage is the largest public community college in the state of Illinois. The College grants nine associate degrees and offers more than 170 career and technical certificates in over 50 areas of study.