Harper student to participate in NASA's scholars project
Harper College student Hasan Fetahi of Hanover Park is headed to NASA this month -- and it's no April Fools' Day joke.
Fetahi was selected for NASA's Community College Aerospace Scholars project. He is the first Harper student in four years to be accepted. The last one, Kristen O'Mara Scotti, expects to graduate in May from Northwestern University with her undergraduate degree in biology.
"For me, it's exciting to think that I'll be working next to engineers and get to be around people that love chemistry and physics as much as I do," Fetahi says.
Fetahi was among 240 community college students chosen from across the U.S. to take part in the five-week scholars program, which culminates with a three-day, on-site event at Johnson Space Center in Houston.
"I grew up thinking that NASA is the place where all the smartest scientists work," said Fetahi, a graduate of Hoffman Estates High School. "And the more I learn, the more I know there are opportunities for all sorts of fields such as engineering and geophysics."
While at NASA, scholars will form teams and establish fictional companies interested in Mars exploration. Each team will be responsible for developing a prototype rover, forming a company infrastructure, managing a budget, and developing communications and outreach.
He concedes that it was no small task just to be accepted into the program, and he almost dropped out.
As part of the application process, Fetahi had to design a rover similar to Curiosity, the 1-ton robot currently performing planetary experiments on Mars. He used his physics and chemistry background to get creative and pull all his ideas together.
He credits Kelly Page, an associate professor in astronomy and physics, and Andy Kidwell, associate professor in chemistry, with inspiring him and helping him explore real-life applications to create his prototype.
Page describes Fetahi as one of the most enthusiastic and inquisitive students he has had, pointing to his insightful questions and the amount of reading he does outside of the classroom.
"Hasan should absolutely thrive at NASA," Page says. "This will give him excellent exposure to bigger ideas and illustrate significant applications of the ideas he loves to read about."
For Fetahi, the journey toward outer space has been a long one.
He and his family fled war-torn Kosovo in 2000. They were able to come to the U.S. with the help of the World Relief Organization, which paired them with a sponsor family in Elgin, Jody and Virgil Aurand.
"They've been so quick to provide us a helping hand, and they don't ask for anything in return," Fetahi says of the sponsor family. "My mom always says to pray for them because we're so grateful."
The Fetahi family lived with the Aurands for two years before moving to Chicago. The family moved to Hanover Park nine years ago when Fetahi was 12 and last semester, Fetahi became an American citizen.
Fetahi describes his early years at Hoffman Estates High School as lackluster. It wasn't until he discovered his love of chemistry and physics during his junior year that he started to excel.
Upon graduation, he was accepted into Harper's Honors Program, and later served as president of the Astronomy Club. He joined both the Phi Theta Kappa international honor society and the Mu Alpha Theta mathematics honor society.
This semester, he serves as a research assistant in Page's introductory physics class and he also helps students in math, chemistry and physics at Harper's Tutoring Center.
After he returns from the NASA immersion program, he will graduate from Harper in May with an associate degree in engineering science. He has been accepted to the University of Illinois to study chemical engineering and physics.
From there, the sky's the limit.