COD Student Explores Computer Science Careers at NASA
By Mike McKissack
Joliet resident Greg Prawdzik got an up close look at the work of NASA engineers this summer through the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) onsite experience at NASA’s Stennis Center in Mississippi.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he said. “It was great being able to see what amazing opportunities are out there at organizations such as NASA and to realize that I could work there some day.”
The NCAS program included a 5-week online class that culminated in a five-day visit to the Stennis Center. Prawdzik and his fellow students interacted with NASA engineers and learned about careers in science and engineering. In addition, they formed 10-person teams and, under the guidance of a mentor, created fictitious companies working on Mars exploration and tasked with developing and testing a LEGO EV3 prototype Mars rover, managing a budget and developing a communications and outreach program for their company.
Currently enrolled in the College’s Computer Science 3+1 program with Lewis University, Prawdzik plans to work in industry or start his own business after earning his bachelor’s degree. He said he chose computer science because of the flexibility the field offers.
“I have always been interested in tech and creating things,” he said. “With computer science, I can work in nearly any field or I can create anything I can imagine.”
During his visit to NASA, Prawdzik viewed tests of rocket engines, toured a rocket engine factory, participated in a skype call with Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise and met with two astronauts, including Victor Glover, who recently was announced as a member of the SpaceX crew. Other highlights include his teams’ performance during the Mars rover competition.
“I am thrilled to say that my team, R.E.D. Rover Engineering and Design, was the only team to rescue both "vehicles" and "personnel" in the second challenge and won the overall competition,” he said.
Prawdzik, who chose College of DuPage specifically for its Computer Science 3+1 program, praised the partnership with creating more opportunities for local students.
“The value is amazing. For local residents, there are limited options; either drag all your books to downtown Chicago daily to a four-year public university or enter a local private four-year university that can cost more than double what the 3+1 program will cost,” he said. “I could not find a better way to transition to a four-year degree program from a community college. It really helps to know that the classes you are taking will definitely transfer over. In addition, the classes definitely prepare you for advancement into a four-year program. Lewis University would not agree to the partnership if COD classes were not up to Lewis standards.”
The goal of STEM at College of DuPage is to enhance the quality of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) instructional and outreach programs and to help current and future students prepare for careers in STEM fields. COD offers a broad range of academic programs designed to provide students with the educational background and training needed to successfully pursue an advanced degree or career in STEM.
College of DuPage is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Serving approximately 26,000 students each term, College of DuPage is the largest public community college in the state of Illinois. The College grants seven associate degrees and offers more than 170 career and technical certificates in over 50 areas of study.
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