Joseph McMahan, 19, hoped to get accepted to Texas A&M University and move to College Station; getting into TAMU is very competitive and not everyone that applies is accepted. The Waco, Texas native was on the College Station campus when he found out he had another pathway to get into the main campus. McMahan was informed about the Texas A&M-Chevron Engineering Academy at El Centro College but alas the application deadline was looming. McMahan turned in his application just in time and started El Centro Engineering Academy in fall 2016.
Several months into the fall semester, McMahan learned about an interesting opportunity available to community college students—NASA’s Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) program. Kevin Stewart, El Centro College STEM Program Manager, emailed McMahan and several other Engineering Academy students about NCAS, which is exclusively for students having previously completed 9+ hours of STEM coursework at a community college. To complete his application he had to get transcripts and letters of recommendation and had to write a lengthy essay; McMahan said he wrote about how he would like to “know more about what NASA does and see what they have to offer. They have really inspired me and I think it's awesome what NASA has accomplished.”
He found out he was accepted to the initial online portion of NCAS program several weeks later. During this part of the program, students participate in interactive web-based activities including: approximately twenty hours of work online, online interaction with participants across the country, webinars with NASA engineers/scientists and plan a mission to Mars.
“I felt really excited that NASA would pick me to be a part of their program,” said McMahan. “I never thought I would be a part of NASA in any aspect of my life so it was really a life time goal of mine to do something that was a part of NASA.”
He gives credit to the El Centro Engineering Academy for assisting him; “it’s helped me with my math skills and the physics of everything. Being in the Engineering Academy has really helped me look outside the box.”
McMahan just completed the first part of the program. “For our final project we had to write an essay and mine was about the next Rover expedition and where I would land it to look for water and make food on Mars. The NASA site director along with a few colleagues helped us along the way. They helped me figure out where I might best land my Mars Rover.”
This program is very competitive. There were 480 students chosen for the initial stage of the NCAS program. Only 240 will be chosen to go to NASA for the onsite portion, which includes working on a team project mentored by NASA engineers, attending briefings by engineers and scientists, touring NASA facilities and competing in a rover competition!
McMahan is very humble. “I am very pleased on my outcome of the program. I still am hesitant to say that I will be chosen because I talked to some of my fellow colleagues and they wrote some pretty good essays too. So not really confident but still excited,” he continued.
Well he was hesitant for no reason. He just found out that his online course work and final project essay have earned him a spot for the onsite experience at a NASA center, along with two other students from El Centro, Luis Gonzales and Daniel Lopez. “There are about 50 students assigned to each NASA site; they are assigned projects, like building Rovers and they work closely with NASA staff, said McMahan.
You might say McMahan is also genetically inclined to Engineering. He was homeschooled by his mother, who received an engineering degree from Notre Dame and his father graduated with a master’s degree from Washington State University.
McMahan is taking all TAMU instructed classes right now at El Centro College and spends most of each day in class or studying even though he lives in exciting downtown Dallas. In the fall he will transition to College Station to complete his upper level engineering coursework whereas this unique program enables him to be co-enrolled in Texas A&M University - College Station College of Engineering and El Centro College for up to two years. McMahan would like to possibly go into Industrial Distribution after earning a degree.
Unless NASA decides to snag him for all their upcoming Rover projects.