The 24-year-old nursing student is taking classes totaling 23.5 credits while concurrently enrolled at Imperial Valley College, San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus and Arizona Western University in Yuma.
And while she said she has always had her heart set on applying to medical school, a summer excursion to Johnson Space Center in Houston may change all that. As part of NASA’s National Community College Aerospace Scholars program, Nelson will join 92 other community and junior college students for a three-day program that will have them rubbing elbows with NASA scientists and engineers.
The idea of touring the vaunted facility and speaking with NASA personnel in May has her excited the most, she said.
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“I’m kind of a nerd for all that stuff,” Nelson said, referring to space and the laws of physics.
At the urging of an IVC science teacher, Nelson applied to the NASA program. Upon acceptance she had to complete four online assignments that involved having to draw and plan a budget to build a Mars Exploration Rover, as well as detail how she would land the vehicle on the planet. The highly technical work was “stressful” and she said she typically would turn in the assignments on the day that they were due.
Reading over the knowledgeable comments left by the program’s other participants, who typically had science, mathematics or engineering backgrounds, also served to remind Nelson of the significance of her accomplishment, she said.
“They knew so much more because they were already studying those subjects,” Nelson said, adding “I didn’t have an astrophysics professor who could help me.”
As some of her counterparts prepare to head to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, the chance to visit the Space Center in Houston is something she had long wanted to do, said Nelson, a single mother who also works as a scribe at El Centro Regional Medical Center.
While at NASA, the students will form teams and establish fictitious businesses that are interested in exploring Mars, said National Community College Aerospace Scholars program manager Deborah Hutchings. Four teams of students will be tasked with developing and designing a line drawing of a prototype rover, forming the company’s infrastructure, budgeting and communications functions as well as prepare presentations.
The “really competitive” program has been in place three years and typically attracts about 300 applicants, she said.
And although the space shuttle program has been retired, plenty of career opportunities still exist for students interested in science and engineering, Hutchings said, noting the agency’s various internship programs.
“NASA is still here,” Hutchings said.
Staff writer, copy editor Julio Morales can be reached at 760-335-4665 or at email@example.com