Campus & Community

PBSC students selected to visit NASA this October

Thirteen Palm Beach State College students will travel to a NASA center this fall to participate in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars program.

Lauren Ristaino, NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars
Lauren Ristaino is one of 13 PBSC students who will participate in four-day workshop at the Kennedy Space Center as part of the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars program.

The students are among 304 community college students from across the U.S. selected for the NCAS program. Initially, the students spent five weeks this summer in an online course, learning about NASA’s missions and research. Out of 21 PBSC students who took the online course, 16 were invited to attend an on-site NASA workshop, and 13 are able to go. The students pay only $30 in incidental fees, and the NCAS program pays for their travel, food and lodging.

Seven NASA centers are participating, but most of the PBSC students will go to the Kennedy Space Center event October 23-26. During this behind-the-scenes experience, the students will interact with NASA engineers and subject matter experts as they learn more about careers in science and engineering. The students will be assigned to different teams and tasked with establishing fictional companies interested in Mars exploration. Each team is responsible for developing and testing a prototype rover, forming a company infrastructure, managing a budget, and developing communications and outreach.

Vitas Diktanas, NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars
Vitas Diktanas Jr. also is going to the Kennedy Space Center in October. All 304 participants nationwide have created similar photos to use on social media: #NCAS2017 and #MUREP.

The PBSC students attending an on-site event are: Victoria Adams, Mario Aparicio, Oketa Basha, Alexander Cafaro, Robert Dechert, Vitas Diktanas Jr., Damir Fayzulaev, Itai Firan, Katayoun Jamei, Miguel Mattis, Theodore Pena, Lauren Ristaino and Alexander Shaw. (Cory Carpenter, Robert Cook and Anthony Sturges also were invited but are unable to attend.)

Vitas Diktanas Jr., an A.A. degree alumnus and master plumber with his own company, says the NCAS program has expanded his career aspirations. Already planning a career move, he returned to PBSC at the beginning of this year to take the prerequisites he needs to transfer into a bachelor’s degree program in engineering. “I wanted to do something with my mind and less with my hands,” Diktanas said.

Inspired by the NCAS program, he is now deciding between pursuing mechanical or aerospace engineering.

“I’ve always loved space, ever since I was a kid,” Diktanas said. “To have the chance to get into anything connected to NASA is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s something that I’ve always wanted but never expected to be able to do. I’m really excited to go. I just can’t wait to get there!”

The NCAS program also has made a big impact on Lauren Ristaino, who is pursuing her A.A. degree with the goal of earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. She takes classes part time and works full time as a parts specialist for Braman Porsche. While she has thought of becoming an engineer for Porsche in Germany, because of the NCAS program, she is now considering the possibility of one day working for NASA.

“Once you get through the NCAS program, they actually open up a door for you to have future employment with NASA later on, when you do have a degree,” Ristaino said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity that a lot of students may not know of. When I applied for it, I thought, ‘oh let me just try this out and see how it goes,’ and it actually turned into this huge interest I never even knew I had.”

NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars is a project funded in part by the Minority University Research and Education Program (MUREP), which is committed to engaging underrepresented and underserved students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in authentic learning experiences to sustain a diverse workforce.

With this activity, NASA continues the agency’s tradition of engaging the nation in NASA’s mission.

“NCAS has a legacy of alumni moving from NASA internships to and ultimately entering the NASA workforce. It is rewarding to see the progression of a student from NCAS participant to NASA colleague,” said Joeletta Patrick, MUREP manager.

For additional information, contact National Community College Aerospace Scholars by email at or by phone at 281-483-0493.

For more information about learning options at Palm Beach State College, visit


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