Queensborough is One of Two Community Colleges across the U.S. to Receive NASA Award

Published: November 04, 2020

Queensborough Community College is the recipient of a NASA MUREP MISTC-2 (Minority University Research and Education Project-- Innovations in Space Technology Curriculum-Group 2).  The grant entitled “Using Space Technology to Engage and Inspire Students to Explore (SpaceTechEngInE),” was funded in the amount of $410,574 for 2 years.  Queensborough is one of two community colleges across the nation to receive this award, designed to contribute to the preparation, training, and development of NASA’s future workforce.  Delgado Community College in New Orleans, Louisiana was the second.

Queensborough is partnering on the grant with the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) Mission Engineering and Systems Analysis (MESA) Division, the Atmospheric & Space Technology Research Associates (ASTRA), and City College of New York (CUNY) to capitalize on NASA’s ability to inspire both students and the public.  Queensborough is the lead institution.

“This grant presents a wonderful opportunity to further establish our relationship with NASA, and to inspire our excellent students, despite these unprecedented times, to still see their dreams as reachable goals,” said Dr. M. Chantale Damas, Associate Professor in the Department of Physics at Queensborough, and Principal Investigator of the grant. Dr. Damas added, “A goal of the grant is to increase the participation of groups historically under-represented in STEM fields so they too may imagine themselves as a new generation of scholars, researchers, engineers, and astronauts.” 

Queensborough President Dr. Christine Mangino offered her congratulations to Dr. Damas on the NASA MUREP MISTC-2 grant. “Dr. Damas is clearly a champion of her students and instills in them the technologically sophisticated knowledge and skills that are essential for continuing their education and to qualify for any number of promising research and career opportunities in the STEM fields.”

Collection of images depicting satellites

Students will work on the Plasma Enhancements in The Ionosphere-Thermosphere Satellite (petitSat), a NASA funded CubeSat mission to be deployed from the International Space Station (ISS) in 2021. The petitSat Principal Investigator (PI) is NASA scientist Jeffrey Klenzing.  Students will investigate both space weather effects on the ionosphere, which reflects and modifies radio waves used for communication and navigation; and simulate interacting with a CubeSat for preliminary assembly, integration, & testing (AI&T).  CubeSats are small satellites which measure 10cm x 10cm x10cm, and often ride on a rocket to ISS. These small satellites play a valuable role in NASA’s exploration, technology, educational, and science investigations, including planetary exploration, Earth observation, and fundamental Earth and space science. They are a cornerstone in the development of cutting-edge NASA technologies, as shown by the Mars Cube One (MARCO) CubeSats, which were part of NASA’s recent Insight Mission to Mars.

The project is particularly relevant to the following two NASA’s Strategic objectives: 1) Understand the Sun, Earth, Solar System, and Universe; and 2) Inspire, engage, educate, and employ the next generation of explorers through NASA-unique STEM learning opportunities.

This past summer, Dr. Damas ran an eight-week research program with Dr. Sean R. Semper, a lead engineer at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in MESA’s Components and Hardware Systems branch.

“Unfortunately, because of COVID-related issues, the program scaled back the number from eight to four students: three CUNY students and one student from Rutgers University-New Brunswick,” Dr. Damas said.  “Materials were shipped to students to build prototypes of their 1U (unit) CubeSats using only commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components. Students worked in teams to solve CubeSat engineering-related challenges and were successful at building their CubeSat prototypes. Queensborough is currently running a course focused on space science and technology in which students apply the same methods used during the summer to build their own COTS CubeSats.  Interested students may contact Dr. Damas.

Queensborough graduate Yang He was among the students who participated in the summer program. “It was very exciting to learn so much about designing, building and testing CubeSats,” he said. “I have been privileged to work with Dr. Damas over the past several years. She gave all of her students the freedom we needed in order to discover things for ourselves.” Yang plans to graduate from City College in the spring of 2021 and apply for a paid internship at NASA Pathways Program. His future aspirations are to pursue his doctorate in a related field and one day own his own laboratory.

This grant follows Dr. Damas’s 2015 NASA MUREP Community College Curriculum Improvement (MC3I) grant in the amount of $750,000 entitled CUNY-NASA Solar and Atmospheric Research Program and Education Partnership (CUNY-NASA SOLARPREP).  Queensborough was one of four community colleges across the nation to receive the award, which is designed to provide student training and expand course offerings to students in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) discipline. The curriculum (MC3I) was successful at helping community college students persist, graduate, and find their career path and the program was featured in an article in the Space Weather Journal (see Damas et.al., 2019).

Christopher Tandoi,’16, was a Queensborough student funded from this program. He continued his studies and research at York College and is now pursuing his doctorate in instrumentation-designing lenses for telescopes at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign. “Meeting Dr. Damas was a turning point in my life,” he said. “One day she visited my Physics II class and handed out flyers offering undergraduate research opportunities in Space Weather. I spoke with her, applied, and that was it. My days as a below-average student were over.”

Danny Munoz, another 2016 graduate participated in this program and was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Geosciences Directorate.  He is now an electronic chemical engineer at Northrop Grumman, an aerospace and defense company, located in Redondo Beach, California. Upon graduating from Queensborough he moved on to City College where he continued research in the college’s electrical engineering department.  “I am a first generation student who didn’t know the language when I first came to Queensborough. Dr. Damas was compassionate and told me that if I apply myself and take on new challenges I can achieve anything.”

Both Chris and Danny worked as research interns at NASA, and throughout their academic careers at Queensborough under the mentorship of Dr. Damas and Dr. Chigomezyo Ngwira, formerly a research associate resident at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Dr. Damas expressed her deep gratitude to Dr. Chigomezyo Ngwira at ASTRA, Dr. Masha Kuznetsova and staff at the Community Coordinated Modeling Center (CCMC) -- which first welcomed community college students at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center-- Queensborough Physics Department colleagues Dr. Tak D. Cheung and Dr. Paul J. Marchese, and City College Grove School of Engineering colleague Dr. Roger Dorsinville, for supporting her efforts.

“Our mission is to inspire motivated students before they graduate so that they may fulfill their dreams of working at NASA or launch exceptional careers,” added Dr. Damas. “Queensborough has also supported many community college students nationwide. I always remind my former Queensborough students: remember where you got your start; be proud of what you accomplished at Queensborough.”

Dr. Damas gratefully acknowledges support from the NASA MUREP MISTC-2 (Minority University Research and Education Project-- Innovations in Space Technology Curriculum-Group 2) under NASA Award Number 80NSSC19M0221, NASA MUREP Community College Curriculum Improvement (MC3I) under NASA Award Number NNX15AV96A & the National Science Foundation (NSF) Geosciences Directorate under NSF Award Number DES-1446704 


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