Back to Top
My Portal  |   Online/Hybrid Classes  |   A - Z Index  |   Directory  |   People   Disability Accommodation Resources

For Immediate Release
March 23, 2015

Ten RCCD students design Mars mission
as part of NASA program

Students at NASA


Ten RCCD students were among 40 community college students selected to design their own small-scale Mars Rover at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena as part of the National Community College Aerospace Scholars project.

For some, like Riverside City College student Daniele Fierro, it was a life-changing experience.

For others, like Eric Magallan of Moreno Valley College, it inspired them to broaden their horizons.

Hundreds of students nationwide took part in the initial phase of the program, which was an intense, five-week, online learning experience designed to provide them with a foundation of knowledge about Mars exploration. Each student designed a version of the Mars Rover online and presented using 3-D design software.

Top-scoring scholars were invited to attend the all-expenses-paid, three-day workshop at one of NASA's facilities including JPL where they worked in teams to design a 3-D model of the Mars Rover and program it to function in an all-terrain course. They also created fictitious companies competing to win a NASA contract for the next Mars mission.

Other RCC District students taking part in the NCCAS project were: Reenal Gandhi, Kathryn Gibson, Thomas Schopper and Nathan Montgomery of Norco College; and Richard Wotring, Victor Molina, Edward Galindo and Virginia Shih of Riverside City College.

All 10 students were honored at a dinner March 18 in the RCC STEM Center hosted by Dean Virginia McKee-Leone.

The students interacted with NASA engineers and learned about science and engineering careers while working together with other high-achieving community college students from across the nation.

"The experience definitely inspired me to pursue that career field," Magallan said. "I wasn't so much interested in robotics engineering before but now I definitely want to tap into that sort of thing and get a broader experience overall with everything involved in aerospace."

The experience convinced Fierro to pursue a major in bioengineering.

"This program made me want to go further in my education," Fierro said. "I realized how much I loved engineering."

Neither Magallan nor Fierro fit the mold of the expected applicant for the scholar's project.  His background was in graphic arts and she was studying to be a nurse.

MVC Student at NASA
Eric Magallan, MVC Student

"Anyone who has seen the photograph of Earth from the moon, sometimes referred to as 'the big blue marble' understands the impact of images," said Michael McQuead, associate professor of Computer Information Systems at Moreno Valley College. "Eric is someone who would understand this and bring that perspective to the class and to his peers."

McQuead, who is Magallan's mentor, said unfortunately too many students fail to pursue scholarships and enrichment programs because they don't believe they will be selected.

"Eric saw the process through and that's what you have to do," McQuead said. "If you don't buy a ticket, you don't win the lottery."

RCC Life Sciences professor Heather Smith said Fierro earned perfect scores for her robot design, which is even more notable because it required using computer-assisted design software she had never used before.

"She is amazing! Here is something she loves that she didn't even now she was interested in," Smith said. "She tried something new and that took a lot of courage. By doing that, she set an example not only for fellow RCC students, she also set an example for her children and that will last generations."

Another group of RCCD students including Rebecca McCuen will be spending three days at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in April as part of the NCCAS project.

The project is designed to encourage community and junior college students to enter careers in science and engineering in order to join the nation's high technology workforce.

It is directly tied to the agency's major education goal of attracting and retaining students in science, technology, engineering and math disciplines that are critical to NASA's future missions to Mars and beyond.

For additional information about the National Community College Aerospace Scholars go to