Community College of Aurora student Puja Kapoor has been selected as a National Community College Aerospace Scholar and will participate in a three-day workshop with NASA engineers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston May 20-22.
As an Aerospace Scholar, Kapoor, a resident of Aurora, is one of only 60 community and junior college students from across the nation invited to participate in the pilot National Community College Aerospace Scholars program. To qualify for the experience, students completed four Web-based assignments during the school year, maintaining a 96 average. They will work with NASA engineers in an intensive three-day residency.
For Kapoor, there’s icing on the cake. She also has secured a coveted internship with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and will spend the summer working with a team of research engineers. She learned about the internship opening while visiting JPL with other CCA students earlier this year. The group had traveled there to report on the results of a semester-long science project, a BalloonSat launch, made possible by the NASA-funded Colorado Space Grant Consortium.
“CCA and the Consortium have offered me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Kapoor says. “I plan to challenge myself while at Johnson and JPL, because these will be very different experiences. My mindset is to take advantage of every single opportunity I can while I’m there.” Kapoor, who is studying biology and is interested in its applications in both the aerospace and cancer research fields, previously earned a bachelor’s degree in English from CU Denver.
“Puja is a very bright and talented student, and I know she will make the most of her time at JPL and Johnson,” said Victor Andersen, faculty member in astronomy and physics at CCA and a mentor to Kapoor. “She is considering a future as a physician in space medicine, so these are rare and fortunate opportunities she will take part in this summer.”
According to Chris Koehler, director of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium, NASA sees the value and importance of engaging with community colleges. “NASA created the opportunity for space grants across the country to work with community college students, rather than just big research universities, because a large population of students, both geographically and demographically, weren’t being reached,” he explained. The Colorado Space Grant Consortium, based at the University of Colorado at Boulder, is funded by NASA and is a state-wide organization involving 13 colleges, universities, and institutions around the state.
While at Johnson Space Center, Kapoor will interact with students from across the nation as they learn more about careers in science and engineering. Students will form teams and establish fictional companies interested in Mars exploration. Each company will be responsible for developing a prototype rover, designing a line drawing of the rover, and forming the company infrastructure including budget, communications, and presentations. The experience also will include a tour of facilities and briefings by noted NASA employees, including astronauts.