NASA opens a universe of possibility for TSTC student

BY AMANDA SOTELO

HARLINGEN — It has been quite a journey for Texas State Technical College student Saul Pizano who was recently selected to be a part of the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars project (NCAS).

The Harlingen native was one of 304 college students from across the United States and the only one from TSTC to be part of the five-week scholars program that culminated with a week at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“The whole experience was mind blowing. Wow!” said Pizano. “I’m so happy that I got the opportunity to do something like this. It has changed the outlook on my future.”

The NCAS is a project funded in part by the Minority University Research and Education Program (MUREP) which is committed to engaging underrepresented and underserved students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in authentic learning experiences to sustain a diverse workforce.

“NCAS not only inspires community college students to advance in STEM fields, but it also opens doors for future careers at NASA,” said Joeletta Patrick, MUREP manager. “NCAS has a legacy of alumni moving from NASA internships to ultimately entering the NASA workforce. It is rewarding to see.”

Pizano’s experience with NCAS began with a month-long online NASA class where he had to complete research, modules, quizzes, a 10-page essay and design and print a three-dimensional space rover vehicle.

It was his perfect score of 100 percent in the web class and his impressive application that earned him a spot at NASA’s on-site event.

The 22-year-old is already a graduate from TSTC Architectural Design and Engineering Graphics program and is currently pursuing three more associate degrees in mathematics, engineering and physics.

“There is no doubt that everything I have learned and been trained to do at TSTC helped me throughout the NCAS process,” he said.

It was early mornings and late nights for Pizano and the other students participating in this year’s NASA event.

Students formed teams and established fictional companies interested in Mars exploration, developed and tested a prototype rover, managed budgets and created communications and marketing plans.

Pizano was team leader for the Green Engineering and Autonomous Robotics (G.E.A.R.) team, which ended up winning first place for its rover design and development.

“It was great meeting and working with like-minded people,” said Pizano. “The bonds created among us are remarkable. We all arrived as strangers and left as friends.”

NCAS participants also got to speak to NASA experts such as Apollo 11 and 13 NASA Spacecraft Warning System Engineer Jerry Woodfill, and tour the space center’s facilities.

“Before this experience I felt like NASA was out of reach for me,” said Pizano. “But now I’ve been there and I know I’ll be back. I can see my future there.”

Pizano’s NASA mentor has encouraged him to apply for a spring internship with NASA in aerospace mechanics.

“I’m that little boy who got his first telescope at six and now here I am with an opportunity of a lifetime,” he said. “NASA is changing the world every day and because of TSTC I have the opportunity to be a part of that.”

For more information on TSTC and the programs offered, visit tstc.edu.