Nestled in a comfortable corner of Pasadena, a small city on a big planet that’s part of a vast, ever-changing universe, is Sarkis Tashjian, who may have the chance to take part in space exploration through NASA’s National Community College Aerospace Scholars Program.

Tashjian, a mechanical engineering and mathematics major, is one of 52 other community college students in the nation competing in the second round of the program. He is currently planning his own hypothetical mission to Mars as well as designing his own rover on a 3-D modeling software, all while juggling his tutoring job and studying for finals.

“I feel really excited and anxious competing against others in the nation. I’m not sure how prepared I am, but I’m going to give it my best shot,” Tashjian said.

In the program, which was started in 2010, students compete for the opportunity to work directly with NASA scientists and engineers, according to Maria Chambers, NASA Education Specialist.

“Students will complete 20 hours of online work, which consists of Mars past, present, and future missions as well as Mars geology…,” Chambers said. “The students have to obtain at least a 70 average on the online work. We also look at the geographic region as well and completed application.”

If he is chosen, Tashjian gets to participate in an on-site project where he will work with teams and other students while competing in engineering design challenges. He will also design a working rover that will retrieve rocks from a simulated Mars terrain, according to Chambers.

“I’m interested in the program because it’s exactly what I want to do in my future: space travel. It is the single most important thing to human civilization and growth,” Tashjian said.

Tashjian’s interest in space exploration came from learning about math and its roots and how it connects with everything in the universe. Though it is a fairly new interest for him, he plans to pursue a doctorate and one day hopes to work with an astronautics team for NASA or SpaceX.

“I’ve had to bust my ass to get to this point by finding out about little programs and opportunities and striving through the competition and fighting the odds of being picked,” Tashjian said.

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