NASA Awards $750,000 Grant to Queensborough Community College to Explore New Frontiers in STEM Education

Published: September 11, 2015

Queensborough Community College is the recipient of a NASA research grant in the amount of $750,000 entitled “CUNY-NASA Solar and Atmospheric Research Program and Education Partnership (CUNY-NASA SOLARPREP) ”.  Queensborough is one of four community colleges across the nation to receive the award, which is designed to provide student training and expand course offerings to students in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) discipline.

“This grant presents a wonderful opportunity to further establish our relationship with NASA and to encourage motivated students and faculty at the community college level to engage in research in solar, geospace and atmospheric physics under the umbrella discipline of space weather,” said Dr. M. Chantale Damas, Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics at Queensborough and Principal Investigator of the grant.

“I am extremely proud that Queensborough has been selected as one of only four community colleges across the nation to receive this prestigious award,” said Dr. Diane B. Call, President of Queensborough Community College. “It clearly demonstrates how Dr. Damas exemplifies the talent and dedication of our faculty in providing students with undergraduate research opportunities unique to potential careers in the STEM fields.”

Dr. Damas explained that space weather is an area of study that requires knowledge of more than one STEM discipline.  Space weather can have a severe impact on both space- and ground-based technological systems, and it is a great topic to get students thinking about and interested in STEM.  Of course, mention NASA and students are totally hooked!

The new space weather curriculum will be developed with NASA and other partner institutions, including CUNY’s The City College of New York and Medgar Evers College, University of Colorado at Boulder’s Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research, and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Community Coordinated Modeling Center (CCMC). The New York NASA Space Grant Community College Partnership Program at CUNY/York College is also a partner.

The new space weather curriculum will offer STEM students opportunities for paid year-long undergraduate research, including summer internships at both NASA and partner institutions. Also, a seminar series will take place at Queensborough featuring guest speakers from NASA and partner institutions who will address faculty and students on topics related to space weather.

“There is a cadre of support for our students from mentors at the senior college level as well as from peers and graduate students,” noted Dr. Damas, who expressed her deep gratitude to Queensborough colleagues Dr. Paul J. Marchese, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, and Dr. Tak D. Cheung, Professor and Deputy Chairperson of the Department of Physics, for inspiring and supporting her efforts.

The MUREP grant overlaps with the National Science Foundation (NSF) Early-Concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) awarded to Dr. Damas in the summer of 2014. The grant began February 1, 2015 and will run through the end of January, 2017. The NSF EAGER: QCC Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program in Solar and Atmospheric Physics has two components: during the academic year, students take what they learn in a course-undergraduate research experience (CURE) and apply it to conduct research on real-world problems; and during the summer, students are placed in research internships at partner institutions to further develop their research skills in solar and atmospheric physics.

Christopher Tandoi, an Engineering Science major, was supported through both the New York NASA Space Grant and QCC’s NSF EAGER grant this past summer to conduct supervised undergraduate research at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Christopher noted that his mentors guided him and also encouraged him, “to decide what I wanted to learn and how to apply it.” He added, “Like many kids, when I was young I dreamed of being an astronaut. When I was conducting research at NASA it struck me that I had achieved part of that dream.”

MUREP awards promote STEM literacy and enhance and sustain the capability of institutions to perform NASA-related research and education. The goals of the program are to expand the nation’s base for aerospace research and development, increase participation by faculty and students at minority serving institutions, and increase the number of undergraduate and graduate degrees in NASA-related fields awarded to students for minority serving institutions.

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