STEM Takes Flight with Community College Students
On weekdays, Patricia Jackson pursues an associate degree in mechanical engineering technology at Thomas Nelson Community College. Once a month on weekends and for two weeks every summer, Jackson is a senior airman in the Air Force Reserves. The discipline and training she exhibits as a member of the armed forces, combined with a gift for math and science, affinity for math and science, led her to participate in a summer internship program at NASA this past summer.
Part of the Virginia Space Grant Consortium, the STEM Takes Flight at Virginia’s Community Colleges program provides scholarships with hands-on research and work experience to community college students pursuing STEM majors. Participants, who are selected on a competitive basis, spend 40 hours a week for 10 weeks working with NASA Langley faculty on a variety of technologically-advanced projects.
“Our assignment,” said Jackson, “was to incorporate an inflatable system into a miniature satellite so that it could withstand serious impact on reentry. The overall goal was to create a cubesat that would have the same capabilities as a conventional satellite.”
Jackson, along with teammates and fellow VCCS students Jack Verrier (PVCC) and Karan Bansal (NOVA), conducted research, fabricated the device, and delivered a presentation to NASA officials.
“The more we learned and understood about the project,” added Jackson, “the better the experience was. We were very happy with the end result. But, I never would have had this experience without the encouragement of Professor Young at TNCC, who used to work at NASA. She knew I was ready for the challenge of this research project, even if I wasn’t as confident.”
Jackson took a circuitous route to college. After high school, she had planned to attend Lynchburg College but soon realized she wasn’t quite ready. Instead, she joined the Air Force Reserves as munitions maintainer. Several years later, Jackson returned to school where she initially planned to major in sociology. “I soon switched to mechanical engineering technology because it was more of a challenge and more similar to my experience in the military. It was a great fit.”
Jackson was also accepted into NASA’s Pathways Program, which provides paid two-year apprenticeships with NASA once a student receives an associate degree. After that, Jackson will pursue a bachelor’s degree from Old Dominion University, with plans to go back to work for NASA full-time.
“I’m blessed to have participated in the summer program. Some people have internships of just doing busy work, but that wasn’t my experience at all. It served a purpose, and that was the best part.”
You can find more information about NASA’s STEM Takes Flight program here.
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