Southwest Student Selected to Visit NASA and Plan Mars Exploration

Erin Mullinax, of Southwest Tennessee Community College, has been selected to travel to a NASA Center this spring to participate in a three-day on-site event. She has been selected as one of 92 community and junior college students from across the nation to be part of the National Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCCAS) program. Students completed four Web-based assignments during the school year, maintaining an 88 average to qualify for the experience. They will apply what they have learned during the year to work with NASA engineers.

Mullinax learned of the opportunity with the NCCAS program through membership in Southwest's Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. "… It interested me and when I saw it was for engineering majors, I thought it was a good opportunity to get involved with NASA and get my name out there," said Mullinax.

Laid off from her job during the recession, she enrolled at Southwest 17 years after completing high school. Mullinax dove full throttle into the college culture and now serves as president of the Honors Academy, vice president of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and the Service-learning Club, and was recently named to the 2012 Phi Theta Kappa All-Tennesseee Academic Team.

The program is a three-day on-site event at either Johnson Space Center in Houston or the Jet Propulsion laboratory in Pasadena, CA. It offers students from across the nation the opportunity to interact with each other as they learn more about careers in science and engineering. While at NASA, students form teams and establish fictional companies interested in Mars exploration. The on-site experience at NASA includes a tour of facilities and briefings by noted NASA employees including astronauts.

"If you had told me three years ago that I would be going to NASA in May and graduating with honors, I would have thought 'you are out of your mind,'" said Mullinax, who is being courted by such institutions as Yale, Kentucky State, and Austin Peay State universities, among others.

National Community College Aerospace Scholars is a program based on Texas Aerospace Scholars, originally created by the state of Texas in partnership with NASA and the Texas educational community. Both programs are designed to encourage community and junior college students to enter careers in science and engineering and ultimately join the nation's highly technical workforce.


Photo caption: Erin Mullinax