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Thursday, January 17 , 2019, 10:03 pm | Fog/Mist 56º


SBCC Grad on Launch Pad to Career in Space Exploration

SBCC graduate, Moriah Contreras, center, with fellow NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars.
SBCC graduate, Moriah Contreras, center, with fellow NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars. (Courtesy photo)

SBCC graduate Moriah Contreras is a self-confessed “Star Wars fan and space junkie” with hopes of having a career working for NASA one day.

So when she was selected as one of 280 students from across the U.S. to be part of a special NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) program this summer, it was a giant step toward making her dream become a reality.

As a physics major at City College from the summer of 2015 to spring 2018, Contreras became involved in the college’s STEM club (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

It was through the STEM Transfer Program coordinator, Adolfo Corral, that Contreras learned of the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars and of the authentic NASA experience offered each summer.

“When she became aware of NCAS she immediately applied because she was very interested in NASA and she knew she could take advantage of the program because the first five weeks were online,” Corral said.

During the five-week course, Contreras and the other community college scholars studied NASA missions, the solar system (and beyond), and plans for future Mars exploration.

As a final project, she wrote a paper that compared and contrasted the different in-space transportation systems and pathways proposed for human Mars exploration in the in the 2030s.

The course culminated with a four-day, on-site event at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. There, Contreras met an Apollo 13 astronaut, was briefed by NASA subject matter experts and toured an Aerojet Rocketdyne factory.

But most of her time was spent with her team, building, programming and testing a robotic rover prototype.

Contreras will be attending the University of Illinois at Chicago in the fall. Her goals are to work for NASA while she finishes her undergraduate and graduate studies and to go on to earn a Ph.D in astrophysics.

“My hope is to be a project scientist for NASA in the future,” she said.

“NCAS not only inspires community college students to advance in STEM fields, but it also opens doors for future careers at NASA,” said Joeletta Patrick, manager at the Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP).

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

Reflecting on her on-site experience this summer, Contreras said, “Being involved in the engineering and programming process was invaluable to me because as a young woman, I never thought I had the aptitude for STEM and especially engineering.

“I really hope other young women like me, who are interesting in science — but feel inexperienced — go and apply for NCAS. It forces you to gain the experience, and it really boosted my confidence.”

— Luz Reyes-Martin for SBCC.


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