Summer 2014 Community College Research Projects

August 2014—The California Space Grant Consortium (CaSGC) and its affiliates and partners completed three programs involving Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) community college students in university research, preparing them for careers and advanced degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) and increasing diversity and inclusiveness in CaSGC programs. These were held in the spring and summer of 2014 in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Orange County:

Los Angeles: On August 2, 2014, 21 students from Pasadena City College, East Los Angeles College, and Rio Hondo College presented research performed over six weeks at CSU Los Angeles under Dr. Zanj Avery, professor at CSU Los Angeles, and T. Fox, CSU Los Angeles MESA Engineering Program Director. Over a series of Saturday seminars and workshops the students studied engineering design, theory and applications of photovoltaic cells and electrical energy storage, vehicle design, assembly, testing, and engineering problem solving and made connections to solar-powered autonomous rovers used by NASA to explore the Moon and Mars.

Final Presentations on Solar Vehicle Research

Working in teams, they prepared prototype and final vehicles, one per student, drawing on scientific principles and the expertise of each team member, ranging from mechanical and electrical engineering to physics to environmental engineering and math. The teams were mentored by CSU Los Angeles students and faculty as well as staff at their individual community colleges.

Research Groups at CSU Los Angeles

As noted by Melva Alvarez, MESA Community College Program (MCCP) Director at Pasadena City College, the students’ interest in STEM subjects grew exponentially as a result of this program. Three MCCP Directors were involved: Dr. Gisela Spieler-Persad of Rio Hondo College, Dr. Armando Rivera-Figueroa of East Los Angeles College, and Melva Alvarez of Pasadena City College.

San Diego: On July 25, 2014 the CaSGC completed an intense 5-day San Diego MESA Alliance Research Academy at San Diego State University and UC San Diego. Twenty-five students from San Diego City College, Southwestern College, and San Diego State University worked in teams on five research projects mentored by graduate students: Microgravity Flame Research, PMMA Combustion in a Narrow Channel Apparatus Simulating Microgravity, Sensory Motor Neural Engineering, Bulk Metallic Glass, and Near Space Ballooning using Arduinos. One of the projects, PMMA Combustion, involved a real-time video downlink with astronauts on board the International Space Station, an exciting highlight of the project. The students toured and worked in university laboratories, learned about the research process, learned the theory and governing equations behind the research, and analyzed the data they collected. This fall the students will conduct outreach at community colleges and K-12 schools presenting their projects and inspiring students to seek research experiences during their studies.

Students Preparing Arduinos for Atmospheric Monitoring on Near Space Balloon

The Research Academy was formulated in 2011 by Rafael Alvarez, MCCP Director at San Diego City College in response to CaSGC encouragement to develop a meaningful program introducing community college students to university research while affecting a wide number of students. It has been run these past three summers providing 60 community college students with hands-on university research experiences. The curriculum was developed by graduate student Daniel Nelson and the program is led by CaSGC Campus Director Dr. Gustaaf Jacobs, professor at San Diego State University, and Theresa Garcia, Director of the MESA Engineering Program and Interim Assistant Dean of Student Affairs at San Diego State University, with assistance from MCCP Directors Rafael Alvarez of San Diego City College and Dr. Raja Bakhiet of Southwestern College.

Research Groups at San Diego State University

Orange County: In April and May 2014, 20 students at Santa Ana College conducted research at Chapman University over a series of five Saturdays under two postdoctoral scholars. Focusing on climate impact assessment using satellite observations, the students learned about scientific research processes and procedures, vegetation activity and wildfire occurrence in Southern California using the FARSITE fire spreading model, and the acquisition of satellite and ground based vegetation data.

Students Presenting their Work to Dr. Kafatos and Ms. Shaffer

Students Presenting their Work to Dr. Kafatos and Ms. Shaffer

At the end of the five weeks the students presented their projects to faculty and CaSGC staff. One student commented he enjoyed the opportunity to learn something in-depth, going beyond the surface, asking questions and researching the answers. This was echoed by all the students in reflections about the program. Several of these students work while taking classes and would not have otherwise had the opportunity to conduct research. The program was run by MCCP Director Cathie Shaffer of Santa Ana College and Dr. Menas Kafatos, Director of the Center of Excellence in Earth Systems Modeling and Observations at Chapman University.

Research Groups at Chapman University

For all three community college research programs, the majority of the students hold down jobs to support themselves and their families while attending classes. The NASA-funded California Space Grant Consortium provided scholarships for each student, allowing them to take time off work to conduct the university research and attend the workshops. The students were so inspired and encouraged by their experiences that they are exploring further research opportunities in STEM and continuing their studies through transfers to four year universities to pursue advanced STEM degrees. Each student will be longitudinally tracked to determine the long term success of the programs. The CaSGC is pleased to have played a role in igniting a passion for STEM in each of these students. We thank our MESA partners at MESA Headquarters, the San Diego MESA Alliance, and the MCCPs at San Diego City College, Southwestern College, East Los Angeles College, Pasadena City College, Rio Hondo College, and Santa Ana College for their hard work and dedication to these programs.

For more photos from the three projects, please visit the following links:

Los Angeles Project

San Diego Project

Orange County Project