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Glendale Community College student selected for NASA program

Torkom Pailevanian, 19, will be part of elite group in three-day space program at the Johnson Space Center in Houston

March 06, 2012|By Megan O'Neil, megan.oneil@latimes.com
(Tim Berger/Staff…)

A Glendale Community College student is among 92 aspiring young scientists and engineers selected last week to join the National Community College Aerospace Scholars program and help design robotic rovers in an educational collaboration with NASA.

Torkom Pailevanian, 19, will join an elite group of community college students from across the country at the Johnson Space Center in Houston for a three-day, hands-on engineering experience starting May 9. It is designed to foster talent within science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known within education circles as STEM disciplines.

“It really caught my interest, and when this opportunity came up, I jumped right on it,” said Pailevanian, a student worker at the Glendale Community College Planetarium and an intern at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. “I thought it would be interesting to learn about a new planet.”

The second-year student learned about the program from a classmate, and quickly set about assembling his application. He was then tasked with completing a four-part, web-based assignment in which he had to develop an exploratory mission to Mars.

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“You had to state why you wanted to do certain things in certain ways,” Pailevanian said. “You are basically creating a practical mission to Mars to the best of your knowledge of all the technology available today.”

The Glendale native, who currently has a 4.0 grade point average, said that he harbors a life-long fascination with how things function. He hopes to transfer to Caltech and major in engineering and physics, and credits Glendale Community College professor Rick Guglielmino as someone who has motivated him to work hard.

“It was easy to learn with him,” Pailevanian said of his Physics 101 professor. “The time would go by so quickly. You wouldn’t even realize you had been sitting in lecture for an hour and 15 minutes. I would try to impress that teacher, to do something he had never seen.”

Once at the Johnson Space Center, student participants will work together in teams to form companies engaged in Mars exploration, and build prototype rovers that will then be used to navigate a course and perform tasks, such as collecting rocks and water.

Engaging underserved and underrepresented learners in STEM initiatives helps NASA to build a more inclusive and diverse workforce, Leland Melvin, associate administrator for education with NASA, said in a statement.

“Community colleges offer NASA a great pool of STEM talent critical to our scientific and exploration initiatives,” Melvin said. “They also serve a large portion of our nation’s minority students.”

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