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NOVA alum selected to participate in summer NASA program in California


Northern Virginia Community College graduate Joseph Cunningham has been selected to travel to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calf. this summer to participate in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) onsite experience. Cunningham was selected out of 280 community college students from across the nation.

The five-week online activity culminates with a four-day on-site event at a NASA Center and offers students the opportunity to interact with NASA engineers and others as they learn more about careers in science and engineering. From July 28th through Aug. 2nd, students will form teams and establish fictional companies interested in Mars exploration at NASA. Each team is responsible for developing and testing a prototype rover, forming a company infrastructure, managing a budget, and developing communications and outreach. The onsite experience at NASA includes briefings by NASA subject matter experts, information on how to apply for internships and a tour of NASA’s unique facilities. 

Cunningham graduated summa cum laude from NOVA in December 2017 with an associate of science degree in engineering. After speaking with his former NOVA advisor, he decided to apply to NCAS with hopes of being selected to participate in the nationally competitive program.

“This is an exciting opportunity to network with people who are considered experts within the profession,” said Cunningham. “I’m most looking forward to working with a team of like-minded students from all across the nation to develop a rover prototype for NASA and learn more about what actually happens at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center.”

Prior to enrolling at NOVA, Cunningham received his bachelor’s degree in sociology from Brigham Young University–Idaho and a master’s degree in forensic psychology from Argosy University. His initial plan to pursue a career in foreign affairs changed after his interest grew for space exploration.

After enrolling into NOVA’s associate of science engineering program, Cunningham feels confident he is prepared to transfer to Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech to earn his second bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering.

“My previous pathways did not work out and I felt it wasn’t a good fit for me,” Cunningham said. “I’ve always enjoyed science and math and was fascinated with space exploration and NASA. Because of that, I thought it would be possible to become an aerospace engineer to develop and build space systems. The faculty and staff at NOVA truly helped me to gain the required skills and education needed for me to continue my studies in the engineering field. I’ve been accepted to Virginia Tech and I’m currently waiting to hear from Georgia Tech. NOVA provided me with the foundation to explore a different career option with lots of opportunities.”

NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars is an activity funded in part by the Minority University Research and Education Program, or MUREP, which is committed to engaging underrepresented and underserved students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in authentic learning experiences to sustain a diverse workforce. With this activity, NASA continues the agency’s tradition of engaging the nation in NASA’s mission. 

“NCAS not only inspires community college students to advance in STEM fields, but it also opens doors for future careers at NASA. NCAS has a legacy of alumni moving from NASA internships to and ultimately entering the NASA workforce. It is rewarding to see the progression of a student from NCAS participant to NASA colleague,” said Joeletta Patrick, Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) Manager.

For additional information on NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars program, visit http://ncas.aerospacescholars.org/.


Media Contact: Kristina Ogburn | 703.503.6338 | kogburn@nvcc.edu


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.