Four California minority students are on their way to achieving their dreams of attending college, thanks to collaboration between NASA and the Foundation for a College Education (FCE).

The students from East Palo Alto, Calif., some of them the first in their families to attend college, spent the summer engaged in cutting-edge research at NASA Ames Research Center, in Californiaís Silicon Valley. NASAís Airspace Systems Program sponsored the interns, who worked in the areas of physiology, space and aviation. The internships exposed the students to a serious scientific environment, enabled them to operate sophisticated technical equipment, and involved them in exciting research projects. 

“Our collaboration with NASA Ames has been extraordinary  the entire agency has been an advocate for FCE and our students for the past two-and-a-half years,” said Stephanie Wick, FCEís executive director. “The internships set up for our students have been such rich and valuable experiences for them – truly transforming! We look forward to building on the successes of our strong cross-agency partnership,î she said. 

FCE is a non-profit organization that aims to increase the number of students of color entering four-year colleges and universities. The foundation believes that high expectations lead to high achievement. FCE encourages students to pursue advanced academic courses to ensure they are prepared to attend nationís best colleges and universities. FCE offers its students free tutoring, college coaching, financial aid guidance, academic planning and advising, career exposure and various cultural events and activities. 

NASA embraces FCEís mission to promote college access for students who traditionally have been underrepresented in higher education. “NASA’s involvement in programs to provide students with the opportunity for higher education is the right thing to do,” said Frank J. Aguilera, deputy director of NASA’s Airspace Systems Program. “It is to our advantage to bring students here now, as they will be more apt to help us in the future because they have already been to NASA. We obviously are interested in them coming back to us,” he said. “And the students’ work is always of good quality.”

“I really liked my summer internship at Ames because I learned how actual researchers go about their daily work,” said FCE intern Ajayi Lawrence, who works in the psychophysiology laboratory of Dr. Patricia Cowings. “I also learned what it takes to be a researcher, which is what I would like to be one day. I believe this internship will help me to succeed in college. But even more significant is that I learned the importance of being well-rounded,” he said. Lawrence noted that one highlight of his internship was the opportunity to meet former astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to fly in space.

“I liked working at Ames because I learned new things and met new people,” said FCE student Paulina Hernandez, who works with NASA Ames” Wendy Holforty developing air traffic management decision support tools. “My experience at Ames will enhance my college application and will help me succeed in receiving a higher education,” she said.

FCE interns Travis Perkins and Kevin Jones have participated in simulations in NASA Ames” Airspace Operations Lab since April. Perkins, who has been involved with FCE for more than 3 years, will enter San Jose State University this fall, concentrating on aviation and aeronautics. He will continue with FCE by mentoring younger students.

The Airspace Systems Program at NASA Ames is a leading developer of cutting-edge technology to modernize and improve capacity and mobility within the national airspace systems. The program works to reduce flight delays, improve human performance, and to develop new aircraft systems and air traffic management tools. 

Founded in 1995, FCE graduated its first high school students in 1999 and now has 37 students enrolled in college. Currently, there are 38 students in the high school program. “There are several factors that make FCE unique. We actively involve parents, which is an absolutely essential part of the equation. By giving entire families the tools to access higher education, we believe we can help build the capacity of an entire community,” said Wick. “We set high expectations for academic success and push our students to challenge themselves beyond what they might perceive as their limits. Finally, FCE considers the educational pipeline  the importance of early outreach, sustained support throughout secondary school, and perhaps most importantly, retention in higher education. It”s not enough to get our kids to college  FCE is committed to making sure they graduate.”

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