(Santa Ana, CA) - Santa Ana College (SAC) student and Garden Grove resident, Sonora Ortiz, 24, recently took part in a NASA program providing community college STEM students an authentic NASA experience, while encouraging participants to transfer to a four-year university and pursue a degree in a NASA-related field.
Ortiz was introduced to the National Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) program, which consists of an online course focused on aerospace, engineering, NASA history and the organization’s current operations through webinars, online interaction and a NASA-related project through Professor Stacey Littlejohn.
“I’ve wanted to work for NASA for about as long as I can remember and I leapt at the opportunity for even a taste of that,” said Ortiz.
Students like Ortiz, who performed well in the online portion of the program became eligible for a weeklong onsite experience that included being mentored by NASA engineers, briefings by engineers and scientists, a facility tour and rover competition, among other valuable experiences.
“The parts of the experience that stood out the most to me were the times we were able to meet and speak with various folks at the NASA site,” said Ortiz who was selected to participate in the program at Mississippi’s Stennis Space Center. “We were allowed some less-structured time with tour leaders where we could ask all sorts of questions and learn about the realities of various positions and missions. It was such an amazing opportunity to work onsite at a NASA center under the direct mentorship of, in my case, a lead propulsion engineer, and it will provide a leg-up for future internship or career applications with them later.”
Outside of a $35 non-refundable registration fee, the program is entirely funded by the Minority University Research Education Program (MUREP), which covered all of Ortiz’s travel, lodging, meal and supply needs while participating in the onsite portion of the program.
Ortiz’s educational goals include obtaining a Ph.D. in astrochemistry and nuclear chemistry and acquiring a career in astrobiological or astrochemical research and nuclear remediation.
“The NCAS program was a unique, exciting and inspiring way to get a glimpse of life at NASA and how to get there myself,” said Ortiz, “I left Stennis feeling like the career I’ve dreamed of is distinctly possible and that I’ve taken a real step toward it.”
About Santa Ana College
Santa Ana College (SAC), which turned 100 years old in 2015, serves about 18,000 students each semester at its main campus in Santa Ana. The college prepares students for transfer to four-year institutions, provides invaluable workforce training, and customized training for business and industry. In addition, another 11,000 students are served through the college’s School of Continuing Education located at Centennial Education Center. Ranked as one of the nation’s top two-year colleges awarding associate degrees to Latino and Asian students, the college is also recognized throughout the state for its comprehensive workforce training programs for nurses, firefighters, law enforcement and other medical personnel. SAC is one of two comprehensive colleges under the auspices of the Rancho Santiago Community College District.