NASA minority research project takes flight

Engineering faculty from California community colleges recently learned how to build drones and rockets as part of a NASA Minority University Research and Education Project grant program at Lyles College of Engineering. Four educational institutions across the nation, including Fresno State, were selected by NASA to receive up to $250,000 per year over a three year period to expand science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in community colleges.

University and Community College Professors working together to make a difference

University and Community College Professors working together to make a difference in STEM

“We came together to develop STEM educational materials for the new Rising Data curriculum to help increase the pipeline of students transitioning from community colleges into four-year institutions,” said Dr. Gregory Kriehn, electrical and computer engineering professor in the Lyles College of Engineering at Fresno State.

Kriehn and his students were recently featured in the cover story of Fresno State Magazine for their work developing unmanned aircraft systems for farming applications.

In 2016, the Rising Data training was hosted at Sonoma State University and led by Dr. Lynn Cominsky, chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Sonoma State, who helped write the NASA proposal based on her experience with high school students.

“Colleges teach the most diverse student body and it’s important to get those students involved in hands-on activities that can broaden their skills and career aspirations,” Cominsky said.

Additional elements of the program include full-time paid summer internships for selected students from the participating campuses at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, Fresno State, Sonoma State University, UC Berkeley and UC San Diego. During these internships, community college students will be mentored by University faculty or NASA personnel, creating important connections to potential career opportunities.

“NASA is incredibly inspirational, and being able to participate in a NASA-funded program, and have the chance to intern in a NASA-related summer program has really attracted the interest of a varied group of students,” Cominsky said.

Participants in the NASA Minority University Research and Education Project include Napa Valley College, Reedley College, Los Angeles City College, College of San Mateo, Contra Costa College, Fresno City College, Irvine Valley College, Merced College and Rio Hondo College.

“The participation and input of both community college and University professors enables us to collectively tailor educational materials to students interested in pursuing STEM related fields, create educational bridges with community colleges by developing coursework relevant to our curriculum and to utilize new technology as a way of showcasing STEM,” Kriehn said.

The completed drones were tested in a field at Clovis Community College and the model rockets capable of flying about 1,000 feet above ground level were launched at Tripoli Central California in Helm. Each drone and rocket carried scientific payloads that analyzed data taken during flight. While some had minor glitches, they all had successful flights.