NASA program provides students research experience
Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012
Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 13:05
The growth and renovation of the Center for Space Exploration Technology Research (cSETR) at UTEP is allowing the program to keep expanding science and engineering research in the region.
Originally founded as the Combustion and Propulsion Research Laboratory, the center signed an agreement through the Group 5 National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) three years ago and became a University Research Center (URC).
“Our number one goal is to educate students, and then develop new technology, and eventually help them get employment,” said Nathaniel Robinson, associate director of cSETR.
Divided into K-12, education, professional development and research, the center serves four different functions.
Currently, the research center enrolls about 65 students per semester and provides them with an opportunity to do research and have a part-time job at the university at the same time. They are also given the opportunity to work and train alongside experts from NASA.
According to Robinson, most of the students involved in cSETR are majoring in mechanical engineering.
“Some students started here a long time ago, and some came and expressed their interest,” Robinson said.
Besides being an engineering student, the requirements to be involved in cSETR include, but are not limited to having decent grades, showing initiative, showing good work ethic, and cultivating interest, Robinson said.
The recently renovated laboratories at the College of Engineering are currently being utilized by 23 projects.
The laboratories consist of the Goddard Combustion and Propulsion Research Facility, the Challenger-Columbia Structures and Materials Research Laboratory and the Aerospace Educational Laboratory.
According to Robinson, the project’s objective is to expand the interest and research in science and engineering in the country.
“The nation has a problem producing engineers and scientists. What you see everywhere in entertainment are athletes, but hardly ever do you see astronauts being glorified; they are no longer marketed or portrayed by the media,” Robinson said.
Vanessa Dorado, mechanical engineering graduate student and member of cSETR, said she has been interested in engineering throughout her life.
“My dad was an engineer in the auto industry and growing up I thought I would end up in the same field,” Dorado said. “After taking some classes I learned about the broad spectrum of engineering, and when I learned about the focus on space research I was fascinated by it and decided that was the path I wanted to take.”
Chance Garcia, cSETR alumni who is finishing his Ph.D. in energy engineering this May, was one of the few students who was involved in the program before its collaboration with NASA.
According to Garcia his interest in engineering was awakened by his step-dad who is a civil engineer.
“[Engineers] do more logical and methodological process in everything they do and this just rubbed off on me,” Garcia said.
Both students mentioned that the work done at cSETR takes many hours of research that have to be managed throughout the day.
“You go to class, have a literature review, research, plan out and then finally at the lab you put everything together and start testing,” Dorado said.
Understanding the benefits of the program, both of the students mentioned the profit of being able to absorb information and experience done at the laboratory.
“Because of the direct advantages of having hands-on experience and it being a real job as it is, I can already tell that it will be an easier transition to look for a job in real life,” Garcia said.
Dorado said she feels very grateful not only for the opportunity to work at cSETR, but for all the attention that the center has given to students like her.
“This has inspired me to do the same for students of future generations who are just like I was,” Dorado said.
Vianey Alderete may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.