Orange Coast College’s ‘NASA on Campus’ invites students to imagine out-of-the-ordinary jobs

Everyone knows that NASA is a sought-after destination for the best and brightest scientists, engineers and space explorers, but perhaps less is known about the agency’s need for fashion designers, finance and in food science.

Now, a new five-week online program open to students at Orange Coast College aims to shed light on how their individual fields of study could translate into a standout career with the federal space agency.

Students are invited to apply for the “NASA on Campus” experience – from April 27 to June 6 – during which they will learn about the latest research and missions from the experts themselves, according to Erik Bender, who coordinates the programs at OCC’s STEM Center. .

“When everyone thinks of NASA, they think of science, engineering and astronauts, but NASA is so much more than that,” Bender said.

OCC students chat with a NASA employee during an August 2019 trip to the Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center.

(Courtesy of Erik Bender)

“They’re looking for new ways to grow plants in space. They are looking for people to design spacesuits that can be worn in other environments or people who can prepare food that can be eaten on a space station,” he continued. “If you’re thinking about majoring in a college or a profession here on Earth, you can do it for NASA.”

Those who complete the online course (Mission 1) will be invited to participate in Mission 2 – a four-day engineering design and robotics competition on the OCC campus that will run from August 15-18.

Students will form teams and create prototype Mars rovers and fictional businesses with budgets and communication capabilities. The event includes briefings by NASA experts, information on how to apply for an internship with the agency, and field trips to nearby university labs.

At the end of both missions, one lucky student will be selected to receive an internship at NASA.

NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center, seen in 2019.

NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, seen in 2019.

(Courtesy of Erik Bender)

This isn’t the first time the Costa Mesa campus has partnered with NASA. Since 2018, the two institutions have collaborated, through the California Space Grant Consortium, on an after-school program that allows OCC students to design and build rovers and present their projects to NASA engineers for feedback. .

Bender said that in recent years, students have built vehicles designed to search Mars for water or explore lunar lava tubes for signs of lunar life, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was giving them lessons via Zoom or answering questions on Zoom, and they just went to town,” he said Thursday. “I was blown away by what they were able to accomplish.”

Funded by the agency’s Minority Universities Research and Education Program, “NASA on Campus” is open to participating community colleges, has no minimum GPA requirement, and is open to students of all majors.

Applications are due April 6. To learn more, visit

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