Every Michael Jordan needs a Phil Jackson, just like every ambitious student needs advice from top facilities. That is why the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and NASA showed up with their dream coaches for STEM/ MESA interns to the battlecry of Fat Joe’s “All the Way Up” for the internships information session last week.

Kevin Scroggins, founder and president of the National Society of Black Engineers at PCC, spent months planning the event for STEM/ MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement) students. The luxury of having the organizations close by was an opportunity Scroggins didn’t want to pass up.

“JPL is the NBA of the science world. If you play basketball, you want to go to the NBA. So if you’re a STEM student, you want to go to the JPL,” Scroggins said.

Scroggins contacted representatives Eddie Gonzales, a former PCC student, and Roslyn Soto, to speak at the event. Both were first of their family to attend college and offer help beyond the line of duty for their students.

“We each have a story just like you do and we understand that there’s a lot of factors that go into how somebody does in school,” Soto said.

Audrey Serrano/Courier
PCC students listening attentively to the guest speakers from JPL/NASA in Harbeson Hall at the PCC campus on Thursday, March 16.

The information presented by the experts was more than some professors had informed students, such as the requirements for federal internships. The event had over 114 registered attendees, not including walk-ins.

Gonzales addressed the recent budget cuts to the NASA education programs and expeditions. The Office of Education had been removed from the NASA budget along with the Asteroid Deflection Program that morning.

“I want to mention the ugly animal in the room today. If you have been paying attention to the news, all I want to say to that is when I see a storm coming I say, ‘I am the storm,’” Gonzales said.

The path from college to space is more than making the grades. Soto not only spoke on resume building but offered students one-on-one editing and mentoring from herself and Gonzales.

“If you want to work at JPL and you don’t quite have that GPA, we still want to talk to you. You have a passionate drive and when you’re ready, we’ll be there,” Soto said.

The session opened briefly for questions where fourth semester STEM and international student, Isabelle Cecilia, asked for further clarification for students without valid permanent residency status.

“Is it possible for international students who don’t have P.R. (permanent residency) and not a citizen to go anywhere with this?” asked Cecilia.

“It is extremely rare and right now the rules are kind of depending because they are changing for foreign nationals. It is my understanding that we are not accepting any foreign nationals to internships at this time. Even prior to that, we had a cap for the entire year for the whole lab and they had to be Ph.D. students,” Soto responded, as Cecilia left with other international students from the session.

The restriction for non-residents and non-citizens has been in place before the current administration and is not new information. However, the news arrived for the first time to Cecilia that day. She was told about the JPL/NASA internship information session by her professor, but not that only U.S. citizens and valid permanent resident students could be accepted into the programs.

“I had a goal. Now I have to find an alternative,” Cecilia said.

Gonzales shared the importance of doing research prior to attending a job fair or conference: know which experts will be there and be compassionate. It is through rigorous academics that gets a student into the field, but it will be the drive and ability to push for the next level that will set apart those who are NASA-caliber and those who are not.

Taylor Gamboa, an engineering major, enjoyed the event and felt empowered to reach out to the representatives to further his science career and to apply for a summer internship at JPL.

“They seem very open and inviting and mentioned that they were welcoming to more than other people would be and that was reassuring to more than just me,” said Gamboa.

Students are encouraged to email their applications and resumes to Soto or Gonzales prior to applying for advice or suggestions. The door is always open to students who want to work hard.

The application deadline for the JPL Summer Internship Program is April 7. The Student Independent Research Intern , (SIRI), is now only open to community college students starting Fall 2017, and the application deadline is April 28.

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