Summer Internships at NASA’s JPL Means Research and Robotics for TCC Students & Graduates

June 5, 2017
Three Tulsa Community College students and recent graduates start a prestigious summer internship program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California this week. David Nnaji, Robin Blanchard, and Scott Walker will spend the next 10-weeks working in labs and conducting research. In addition, Tiffany Verlander, who was a JPL intern last summer, returns through a paid JPL internship.

“These internships are sought after by students across the country,” Mary Phillips, TCC associate professor of biology. “The fact that our students go to NASA’s JPL and show what they can do means our students and research program can compete with the best student researchers.”

The students were selected through a competitive process by a team of TCC STEM faculty and JPL mentors. Walker is a mechanical engineer major at TCC. Nnaji graduated in May with two associate degrees in physics and math. Blanchard graduated in May with an associate degree in chemistry. Verlander is majoring in environmental studies.

Nnaji and Walker will work with robotics in areas such as pop-up robots, wall climbing robots, tensegrity landers and a novel snow mobility system which they will be in charge of completing. They will be mentored by Kalind Carpenter, a robotics engineer in the robotic vehicles and manipulators group.

Blanchard will look for bio signatures or signs of life and the precursors related to the exploration of icy bodies such as Europa, Jupiter's moon and Enceladus, Saturn's moon. She will work under the direction of Dr. Aaron Noell.

Verlander will use Geographic Information Systems to help map the images of Titan’s terrain, the largest moon of Saturn. She will be mentored by Dr. Rosalie Lopes, a senior research scientist and manager of planetary science.

Participation in NASA’s JPL summer internship program is possible for the TCC students because of scholarships and grants. TCC became an affiliate member of the Oklahoma Space Grant Consortium in 2016 through the College’s work with NASA and JPL. TCC leveraged a matching grant opportunity with The Wish Book, a fundraising project for the TCC Foundation, that allowed members of the Tulsa community to provide scholarships for the JPL students.

“The Wish Book is filled with what we call opportunity gifts,” Lauren Brookey, TCC vice president external affairs and TCC Foundation president said. “Scholarships given through the TCC Foundation open new worlds of opportunity for exploration. These students will have a summer filled with learning and an amazing scientific research opportunity.”

The students will return from NASA’s JPL in mid-August.