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Students earn prestigious NASA space grant scholarships
Photos and Story by James Hill
Robert Mulkey almost gave up on his education. But after earning a 2014-15 Oregon NASA Space Grant Scholarship this fall, Mulkey’s education has gone into warp drive.
After not receiving a scholarship he had applied for in the spring, the engineering major began questioning if he was on the right path. Another scholarship he applied for happened to be with the Oregon NASA Space Grant Consortium, which announced this term that PCC students Lahiru Fernando (Sylvania Campus), Tara Prevo (Sylvania), Chris Schroeder (Rock Creek), Ana Serrato (Rock Creek), Emilie Walker (Cascade) and, yes, Robert Mulkey (Cascade) had earned $5,000 scholarships this year to cover their general school expenses.
“I was absolutely shocked to find out that I had been picked as one of the recipients,” Mulkey said. “Receiving the scholarship gave me a renewed sense that the hard work I had put in the year before was not wasted. This scholarship has allowed me to move from working full time to a part time schedule so I can partition more time to my education.”
Mulkey, 29, is working on his associate’s degree in mechanical engineering and hopes to transfer to either Oregon State or Portland State universities. His career goals center on volunteering for the Peace Corps where he’d like to assist on water treatment projects in impoverished nations and work for the Palmer Station in Antarctica as a facilities engineer. Eventually, Mulkey wants to start his own manufacturing, or engineering company.
Four years ago, 24-year-old Tara Prevo was living in a pickup. Today, she’s studying astronautical engineering with her sights set on transferring to the University of Cambridge in the U.K. She said she eventually would like to assist in building components for deep space probes, or mechanisms to monitor space weather in the solar system. The NASA space grant announcement has capped a dramatic turnaround in her educational trajectory.
“I called my mom crying to tell her,” Prevo said. “I was just overwhelmed with happiness. I have worked so incredibly hard to get where I am. I moved to Oregon to find a decent job and put myself through school, fulfilling my dreams. I really needed the help with paying for school and this scholarship has truly changed my life.”
Prevo and Mulkey are examples of the six PCC students who have received the NASA grants this year. From a pool of more than 100 applicants, 12 community college students earned awards statewide. The OSG scholarship programs are intended to recognize the academic accomplishments of students enrolled at Oregon NASA Space Grant Consortium member institutions like PCC. The students are working toward a future in the aerospace, science, or education community, with STEM-focused career goals.
The Oregon Space Grant Consortium, part of the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program, is a statewide network of universities, colleges, museums, educators, researchers, students and science professionals. Their charge is to promote STEM education through cooperative and interdisciplinary programs while recruiting and training NASA’s next diverse workforce.
This isn’t the first time PCC has had NASA scholars or interns. In 2013, the college had six other students win space grants and seven more in 2012. Chemistry student Dave Coulter earned a NASA internship in 2013 at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia studying phytoplankton in the world’s oceans and received another internship this past summer as a PSU student.
“It’s just amazing the amount of talent that comes across on these resumés,” said PCC physics instructor Toby Dittrich, who is the associate director of Oregon Space Grants. “A woman that won last year was in my class and I found her homework was really pristine. I said, ‘You should apply for this scholarship.’ She said, ‘Why? I’m a returning student and haven’t been in school for 15 years. I have four kids so how could I possibly win a NASA scholarship?’ I said, ‘That’s exactly the type of person they’re looking for.’ So, she did and she won. Hopefully, this news will motivate more students to apply.”
Meet the 2014-15 PCC NASA Scholars:
Major: Power engineering.
Career goal: Work in the electric car industry and become a physics professor.
Transferring to: Portland State University.
Quote: “I was surprised and couldn’t believe it. I am so grateful for getting the scholarship, and it gives me the drive to make sure that I earn every penny of it.”
Career goal: Work as an exploration geologist, research opportunities using microbes to develop cleaner and safer extraction methods of deposits.
Transferring to: Portland State University’s undergraduate and master’s geology programs.
Quote: “Receiving this scholarship was very surprising. I had to read the email a few times before it really sank in that I had won. I think I was most surprised because I talked to other students who applied, and knew that the competition was steep. Thinking back, I remember my geology instructor telling me to have more faith in myself, and now I know that he was right.”
Hometown: Southeast Portland.
Major: Mechanical engineering.
Career goals: Volunteer for the Peace Corps, work on water treatment projects in impoverished nations and at the Palmer Station in Antarctica as a facilities engineer, and start his own manufacturing/engineering company.
Transferring to: Oregon State or Portland State universities.
Quote: “I was absolutely shocked to find out that I had been picked as one of the recipients. Receiving the scholarship gave me a renewed sense that the hard work I had put in the year before was not wasted. This scholarship has allowed me to move from working full time to a part time schedule so I can partition more time to my education.”
Hometown: North Portland.
Major: Portland Teachers Program.
Career goals: Become a middle school science teacher.
Transferring to: Portland State University.
Quote: “When I received this scholarship I was surprised, excited, and overwhelmed with joy. I know that the OSGC scholarship is another addition to aiding in my success.”
Major: Astronautical engineering.
Career goals: Assist in building components for deep space probes, or mechanisms to monitor space weather in the solar system.
Transferring to: University of Cambridge (U.K.).
Quote: “I called my mom crying to tell her. I was just overwhelmed with happiness. I have worked so incredibly hard to get where I am. I moved to Oregon to find a decent job and put myself through school, fulfilling my dreams. I really needed the help with paying for school and this scholarship has truly changed my life.”
Career goals: To do research in immunology, virology, cancer, genetic engineering and pharmaceuticals.
Transferring to: Not decided yet.
Quote: “I was surprised and in shock when I got the email, because it is the first scholarship I have been selected for. For the first time I do not have to even consider taking out a loan to pay for school; that in itself is a great feeling.”