Two John Tyler Community College Students Fly High after Visit to NASA
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Released on June 11, 2014
CHESTER and MIDLOTHIAN, Va. – Their goals differ, but Sean Mayers and Alexandria “Alex” Ritchie share much in common, including a major honor. The two were among only 40 community and junior college students from across the nation to be selected to travel to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center as part of the National Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) project. NCAS is a semester-long scholars program, culminating with a three-day on-site event at the space center in Huntsville, Alabama. Through the experience, participants get to interact with NASA engineers and other students as they learn more about careers in science and engineering. During their trip to the space center in Huntsville, Alabama, the students toured the facilities and learned about the various types of jobs at NASA. They also took part in a competition in which they were divided into teams and were challenged to design and build a prototype Mars rover that could perform certain key functions. In addition, each team had to develop a budget and presentations in support of their planned exploration of Mars.
Mayers said he decided to apply for the NCAS project after learning about it from a John Tyler faculty member. “It caught my attention,” he said. “When I learned I was accepted, I thought ‘I’m going to NASA!’ It was huge news.” Mayers, who is interested in both aerospace and chemical engineering, described the trip as eye-opening, because it introduced him to a variety of career options in a field where he has long dreamed of working. Mayers is already a successful entrepreneur, owning his own janitorial business. He’s also a college graduate, holding a degree in political science. But, becoming an engineer is his passion. “I came to Tyler after my daughter was born, because I wanted to change my life,” he said. “I visited the campus, spoke to the faculty, got excited about the possibilities and started classes.” He still has a little over a year to go before he completes his associate degree in engineering, but Mayers already is planning his next steps. He would like to transfer to the University of Virginia or to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) to complete his bachelor’s degree. After that, he wants to put what he’s learned to work before beginning a master’s degree. “I would love to work at NASA,” he said. “The people there seem to love their jobs and seem to be having a lot of fun.”
For Ritchie, the NCAS project gave her a chance to see engineering in a different light. She wants to study biomedical engineering and to eventually become a doctor. She became interested in these fields when she was 13, after her parents sat her down to tell her about a sibling she had never known – one who had suffered from a chromosome deficiency. Driven by the desire to help others, Ritchie put together a strategy for her education. But, a change in finances forced her to reassess her plan, and that brought her to John Tyler. “It ended up being a good thing,” she said. “I like how invested the faculty and staff are in the students here, and there are internship and scholarship opportunities.” One of those opportunities presented itself when she found out about the NCAS project. “It wasn’t related to medicine,” Ritchie said. “But, it allowed me to see engineering in action and to meet people and find out how they used their engineering degrees. It also taught me how to think like an engineer – how to problem-solve and approach situations from different angles.” When she finishes her associate degree in engineering at Tyler, Ritchie says she plans to transfer to VCU to continue studying biomedical engineering before applying to medical school. Her ultimate goal is to become a pediatric physician.
Mayers and Ritchie both went to Alabama at the same time, but they ended up on different teams. And, while both say they learned a lot from the Mars rover challenge, it was Mayers’ team that ended up taking first place in the competition by building a rover that was able to complete all its assigned tasks. Both agree that the experience was unforgettable, and they look forward to what’s next.
John Tyler Community College is a two-year, public institution of higher education and is the fifth largest of the 23 community colleges in Virginia. With campuses in Chester and Midlothian and off-campus classrooms throughout the area, John Tyler offers quality and economical opportunities for students who want to earn a degree or certificate, transfer to a four-year college or university, train for the workforce, or switch careers. The College, which served more than 14,000 students during the 2012-13 academic year, offers 17 associate degrees, seven certificates, and 34 career studies certificates. The institution also serves more than 13,000 non-credit trainees and over 1,000 companies and government agencies annually through the Community College Workforce Alliance. The College also is committed to sustainability. In July 2010, it received a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver Certification for Hamel Hall on its Midlothian Campus, becoming the first in the Virginia Community College System to receive such recognition.
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Holly Walker, Public Relations Manager