David Wright, a student from Lisle, Ill., is spending his summer at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. as a participant in the Excellence through Challenging Exploration and Leadership (EXCEL) program.

EXCEL strives to inspire blind and visually impaired students who are entering their freshman or sophomore year of college to pursue careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields through experience in the various career opportunities available with NASA.

Each EXCEL student is assigned a NASA scientist or engineer as a mentor and assists the mentor with his or her current project. The EXCEL participants help their mentors conduct research and use data for the projects, and in turn, the mentors guide the students and help them learn as much as possible from their experience at NASA Goddard.

By the end of the summer, EXCEL participants will gain hands-on experience working on a project related to NASA’s goals. For example, one EXCEL student this summer is helping Goddard scientist with hurricane research. Each student should also deliver an oral presentation accompanied by a technical paper where they will share the results of their research with NASA management, personnel and fellow interns.

“This is a wonderful experience for a student,” said Dr. Vigdor Teplitz, chief of Higher Education for NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. “NASA’s space program is just about the greatest show on Earth if you are a technical person and having these young eager people with fresh points-of-view and questions is good for NASA. It makes for a productive summer for all.”

Students began working at Goddard May 30 and will work through Aug. 11.

In its second year, EXCEL has six participants: three students work with NASA Goddard and three students work with NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. All of the students are pursuing degrees in STEM disciplines.

The program is a result of a collaborative effort between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Federation of the Blind and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The eleven week program consists of a one-week training at the National Federation of the Blind, a week at the National Federation of the Blind’s National Convention, and on-the-job experience at one of the two NASA centers.

With this program, NASA continues the agency’s tradition of investing in the nation’s education programs. It is directly tied to the agency’s major educational goal of strengthening NASA’s and the nation’s future workforce. Through this and the agency’s other college and university programs, NASA will identify and develop the critical skills and capabilities needed to achieve the Vision for Space Exploration.