11/16/12 — Trip to NASA flight center reinforces student's dream

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Trip to NASA flight center reinforces student's dream

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 16, 2012 1:46 PM

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News-Argus file photo

Isabelle Flock works on a project at Wayne Community College.

A Wayne Community College student's dream of working at NASA was intensified recently during a three-day experience at the agency's flight center in Huntsville, Ala.

Isabelle Flock, 19, a second-year student in the automotive/GM ASEP program at WCC, was among 40 students named National Community College Aerospace Scholars. The trip last month included a tour of the facilities and attending engineering, scientist and astronaut briefings and participating in a team project led by NASA engineers.

During the event, student teams created fictional companies pursuing Mars exploration. They designed, developed and built a prototype rover, used to navigate a course, collecting rocks and water before returning to home base.

Ms. Flock's eight-member team emerged the winner for its computerized rover.

"We made an amazing team," she said. "We just worked together phenomenally."

She did not know any of her teammates beforehand, she said, and the opportunity to work together and determine each one's strengths provided great insights.

"The thing that I enjoyed the most was seeing everybody's different talents that they brought to the table. I'm a good leader but at the same time I don't like a whole lot of stress," she said, making her role as systems manager a good fit. "I'm great with working with people, keeping everybody on the same page. I have good organizational skills like that."

The experience -- for NASA as well as the students -- was designed to be much more than a glorified science fair, though. It actually lays the groundwork for students interested in one day becoming a NASA employee.

The agency, Ms. Flock said, is very clear that it is in recruitment mode.

"During lunch, we would have speakers, talking about co-op experiences you could have with them, different ways to get in," she said. "They want the best. They have competition now. They haven't before.

"It's more imperative that they get students coming out of community colleges. They need to grab them or else somebody else will. They want us to work for them. And we were like, OK, duh."

Beyond seeing what the students were capable of academically, the exercises also focused on what type of person and potential employee each might make. And Ms. Flock said she benefited from the applicable lessons she received.

The NASA Aerospace Scholars program encourages students to consider careers in science and engineering. Ms. Flock said she has long held dreams of working with NASA one day, which only became stronger when she learned that internships there could lead to such a career path.

The information prompted a change in her college plan, she said. She will still complete the automotive degree in the spring, she said, but instead of transferring next fall, will now take additional courses at WCC before going on to N.C. State University in the spring of 2014.

"I feel great about that," she said. "I think it's an excellent idea. I get a good education here and come out with less debt (than at a four-year institution)."

The scholars program just reinforced her dream and spurred her on toward it, no matter which of the locations NASA has.

"I would really love to go to Huntsville to their academy they have there," she said. "If I had to pick another, I would probably say Florida because it's launching and I like that. It's more rockets and engineering, things that I like to do."

Ms. Flock said the more she learns about the potential in such a field, the more exciting it is to be a college student. Especially, she points out, at the community college level.

"Big things can happen for you if you go a community college," she said. "You don't have to go to a four-year college to get an opportunity."