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NOVA students explore Mars through NASA Community College Scholars program

NASA scholars

NOVA student Bridgett Velasquez (back row, center) worked with a gropu of her peers called Red Rover Future during the 2016 NASA Community College Scholars Program.



NASA scholars

NOVA student Logan Eggers (far right) and his teammates worked together to create and test a prototype rover for Mars exploration during the 2016 NASA Community College Scholars Program.

Northern Virginia Community College students Bridget Velasquez and Logan Eggers share a common interest in aerospace and physics. Eggers did well in high school, graduating with a 3.66 GPA. Velasquez says she excelled in English but her STEM grades were a “smattering of C’s and D’s.” Neither thought they would end up participating in the prestigious 2016 NASA Community College Scholars (NCAS) program.

A 2016 NOVA graduate, Bridget Velasquez says she did not do so well in high school, and she even dropped out of college after her first year. Born and raised in Virginia, she moved to Alaska with her mother and attended University of Alaska-Anchorage, majoring in English with hopes of becoming a political speech writer.

“I didn’t do well in college so I dropped out. I came back to Virginia and started working in retail,” Velasquez said. “I knew I needed to do something. So I decided to go back to school.”

Velasquez, a tutor at NOVA’s Annandale Writing Assistance Center, said she was confident in her writing but she wanted to try something different in an effort to enhance her college experience and create more opportunity for herself. After reading the first three chapters of Edward Frenkel’s Love & Math, she knew exactly what she wanted to do.

“I had majored in English before, but I decided I wanted to reinvent myself. I chose STEM and became a math major,” she said. “So while at NOVA, I studied math and physics. This was really intimidating at first but the teachers at NOVA were really helpful and encouraging. That motivated me to apply for the NASA Scholars. My experience with participating in the STEM Fair and being president of the Honors Club also gave me confidence and I learned a lot about leadership.”

NOVA student Logan Eggers did well in high school but did not feel quite prepared for the next step in his life. Originally from California, Eggers said his family traveled a lot due to his father being in the Air Force. He said he didn’t plan for college and ended up registering for classes at NOVA the day before the first day of classes.

“I didn’t have a plan, but I’ve always had an interest in space, physics and airplanes,” Eggers said. “My biggest encouragement at NOVA came from Professor Christine Kervina. I failed her English class the first time, but she’s great and she helped me pass her class the second time. She really encouraged me and gave me the self-confidence I needed to succeed. I applied for the NASA Scholars, even though I was actually hesitant at first.”

Velasquez and Eggers were two of 216 community college students from across the country chosen to participate in NCAS. The five-week scholars program culminates with a four-day on-site event at NASA’s Langley Research Center and offers students the opportunity to interact with NASA engineers and others as they learn more about careers in science and engineering.

The students created teams and established fictional companies interested in Mars exploration. Each team had a number of responsibilities including developing and testing a prototype rover, forming a company infrastructure, managing a budget and developing communications and outreach. Velasquez and Eggers said they were able to learn about different aspects of careers they’re interested in pursuing after earning their college degrees. Both having served as officers of NOVA student clubs and organizations, they attribute their leadership and teamwork skills to being a part of those organizations.

“I’m glad I was able to participate and had the opportunity to apply my leadership skills and some of the things I’ve learned at NOVA,” Velasquez said.

Their participation in NCAS has helped stoke the fire for them and intensified their interest in aerospace. Velasquez will start attending College of William & Mary in the fall. She hopes to study and research solar physics and eventually be able to understand solar phenomena and predict space weather. Eggers will transfer to George Mason University and hopes to study astronomy and physics before attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to study aerospace engineering.

Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through NOVA Online. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.