EUHS grad takes off for NASA
Nick Morley wasn’t sure if he would ever work for NASA growing up in Exeter. And he definitely didn’t think the opportunity would come in his freshman year at College of the Sequoias. But in a few weeks, he will take off to Los Angeles to work with NASA scientists and engineers to design a rover to explore new frontiers on Mars.
“I guess I thought a little bit about working for NASA growing up, but this I never really thought as a possibility,” said Morley, who graduated from Exeter Union High School in 2013.
Morley, a math major, was among four COS students who were selected to participate in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) program along with David Berlin (math/science major from Mt. Whitney High), Jon Sosa (engineering major from Redwood High) and Devin Bisconer (engineering major from Tulare Union High).
From Feb. 26-28, Morley will spend his days at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena where they will work with NASA personnel on Mars rover proposals. To be eligible for the NCAS program, students must be a U.S. citizen, a high school graduate, a community college student with at least nine hours in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) discipline, able to access to the Internet and commit to a six-month relationship with NASA.
The NCAS program consists primarily of interactive web-based activities and on-site experience at NASA. Scholars have already put in 20 hours of pre-work online and will continue to have online interaction with other participants and NASA engineers. Once there, they will split up into exploration teams directed by NASA engineers. They will receive briefings from both engineers and scientists on every detail of the project as well as get a behind the scenes look at NASA facilities at JPL.
“I hope we get to design our own rover,” Morley said. “That would be nice.”
Morley said he was interested in computer programming prior to graduating from EUHS. He said he worked on a project involving Adruino, a micro computer that can be programmed to carry out complicated tasks.
“For me building something and watching it actually work is the most interesting part of computer engineering,” Morley said. “You build something from scratch that actually does something.”
One of Morley’s instructors, Duane Goodwin, said the opportunity to work with NASA personnel is an opportunity on many levels. Even more important is the network of contacts it will create and the second and third opportunities that will result from his time at JPL.
“It opens doors to so many different opportunities,” he said.
COS sophomore Isis Frausto is a perfect illustration of his point. Two years ago, Frausto was among 80 community college students nationwide selected by the NASA program. During her three days at JPL, Frausto said she and the other students were working from 8 a.m. to midnight each day on their individual projects as well as team projects to design and build a rover. She said they were given a budget to purchase materials and a timeline to complete their designs. Sprinkled in between work sessions and workshops were tours of the laboratory facility and meetings with engineers and scientists.
The experience convinced Frausto to change her major to chemistry and eventually get her doctorate in Earth science to become an atmospheric chemist. It also led to a research and educational activity (REA) with UC Irvine last summer. After the eight-week research on Antarctic occurrences, the Mexican-born Frausto was asked to speak at SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science) National Convention in San Antonio, Texas. The convention led to her selection to present her research at the American Geophysical Union’s annual conference last fall in San Francisco, the largest meeting of Earth scientists in the world.
“Without MESA, these students would never be apart of this,” Goodwin said. “You can’t compete for opportunities if you don’t know they are out there.”
Goodwin said he hopes the success of the Mensa program at COS will convince other STEM majors to consider attending the community college. He himself began as an engineering major at COS before moving on to Fresno State where he obtained his bachelor’s degree. Goodwin said he had a great career as an engineer before returning to COS as an instructor.
“I believe in this program and I know it works,” Goodwin said. “I wasn’t like Isis or Nick. I wasn’t the smartest guy in the room. I was just getting by. But I stuck with it and good things happened.”