ECC student pursues dream of becoming NASA scientist

 
 
Posted7/16/2018 5:30 AM
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  • Elgin Community College student Angela Andrada, 19, of Elgin, earned a certificate signed by Ellen Ochoa -- the first Hispanic woman to go into space on a nine-day mission aboard the shuttle Discovery in 1993 -- for her participation in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars program.

    Elgin Community College student Angela Andrada, 19, of Elgin, earned a certificate signed by Ellen Ochoa -- the first Hispanic woman to go into space on a nine-day mission aboard the shuttle Discovery in 1993 -- for her participation in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars program. Courtesy of Angela Andrada

  • Elgin Community College student Angela Andrada, 19, of Elgin, earned a certificate signed by Ellen Ochoa -- the first Hispanic woman to go into space on a nine-day mission aboard the shuttle Discovery in 1993 -- for her participation in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars program.

    Elgin Community College student Angela Andrada, 19, of Elgin, earned a certificate signed by Ellen Ochoa -- the first Hispanic woman to go into space on a nine-day mission aboard the shuttle Discovery in 1993 -- for her participation in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars program. Courtesy of Angela Andrada

  • Elgin Community College student Angela Andrada, 19, of Elgin, participated last fall and again this summer in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars program. She aims to be a NASA scientist.

    Elgin Community College student Angela Andrada, 19, of Elgin, participated last fall and again this summer in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars program. She aims to be a NASA scientist. Courtesy of NASA

  • Angela Andrada, 19, of Elgin, was among 304 community college students nationwide participating in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars program. Students got to build rovers for a mock Mars mission as part of the program.

    Angela Andrada, 19, of Elgin, was among 304 community college students nationwide participating in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars program. Students got to build rovers for a mock Mars mission as part of the program. Courtesy of NASA

Elgin Community College engineering student Angela Andrada dreams of making a positive impact through science and working for NASA.

The Burlington Central High School graduate got a chance to further one of those goals this summer through the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars program.

The program comprises five weeks of online activity leading up to a four-day training program at a NASA center, offering students the opportunity to interact with engineers and other experts as they learn more about careers in science and engineering.

Andrada, 19, of Elgin, was among 304 community college students nationwide selected as NASA scholars last fall. She and another student scholar were tapped to return last month to serve as student assistants during the program's on-site training at NASA's Langley Research Center outside Washington, D.C. She led activities, guided the next team of aerospace scholars in a rover competition and handled program logistics.

Students form teams and establish fictional companies interested in Mars exploration. Teams develop and test a prototype rover that can perform tasks such as collecting rock samples, form a company infrastructure, manage a budget, and develop communications and outreach plans. Students are mentored by NASA scientists or engineers and tour research centers.

"Now, I really know I was meant to be a scientist," Andrada said. "This experience is the best launching pad from which I can further inspire younger generations of science-lovers to reach for heights that may seem farther away than stars."

Andrada is an advocate for closing the gender and racial gap in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Last school year, she led a yearlong initiative challenging such disparities with help from ECC's Rho Kappa Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society advisers and members. She sought to encourage students at low-income school districts to consider STEM careers.

"What I really loved about (NASA) was the diversity," she said. "It was like a melting pot of cultures. It was one of the most diverse working environments I have been to and they are very welcoming to community college students."

For her participation, Andrada earned a certificate signed by Ellen Ochoa -- the first Hispanic woman to go into space on a nine-day mission aboard the shuttle Discovery in 1993 and the current director of NASA's Johnson Space Center.

Andrada plans to transfer to a four-year college next year and pursue studies in material science. She hopes to land a NASA internship this fall.

"It's for all the 14 NASA centers, whichever has an opening," she said.

One of the most valuable lessons Andrada learned through the experience was "to not worry about a timeline someone else has given you.

"A lot of people in the NCAS program, they are way older than me," she said. "It's a really eye-opening experience because it's never too late. I was always very curious and ambitious. I didn't have a lot of mentorship that I do now with the connections I made."

NASA's aerospace scholars project is funded in part by the Minority University Research and Education Program, which engages underrepresented and underserved STEM students in authentic learning experiences. It has opened doors for future careers at NASA.

"NCAS has a legacy of alumni moving from NASA internships to ultimately entering the NASA workforce," said MUREP Manager Joeletta Patrick. "It is rewarding to see the progression of a student from NCAS participant to NASA colleague."

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