Isis Frausto-Vicencio is a chemistry and chemical engineering major, with a minor in Earth science, at the University of California, Los Angeles. As a community college student at College of the Sequoias, she participated in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars program and went on to intern at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the summers of 2014 and 2015.
I grew up moving around in the U.S. and Mexico, which made it hard to
keep up with school. I mainly struggled with my language arts classes,
but there were areas in which I excelled: math and science. I was in
high school when I decided I wanted to be a scientist; I was fascinated
by the explanations of the world through chemistry and physics. Although
I was living in Mexico at that time, I never gave up on the dream of
attending an American university to pursue my education. In 2010, my
family and I moved to California.
I was already a high school senior in my last semester when I enrolled in school. I had already missed all the university deadlines, hadn't taken the SATs and had to attend adult school in the afternoon to make up for missing credits. Despite all of that, I graduated on time and decided to attend the College of the Sequoias, a local community college, where I am now majoring in chemistry. (I will be transferring to the University of California, Los Angeles in the fall!)
During my freshman year, I heard about the NASA National Community
College Aerospace Scholars Program, and I decided to give it a shot. I
used my basic knowledge of chemistry to write a series of proposals for a
mission to Mars that included a timeline, budget and rover design.
Based on my individual performance, I was selected on a competitive
basis to attend the on-site team project at NASA's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory. There were about 40 students from all over the U.S. We were
split into four teams to put our ideas together and build a rover. We
called our team "Red Planet Research" and our rover was named "Isis."
(It was my birthday!) Through this I experience, I saw what it takes to
be a NASA scientist and engineer. I also discovered that I wanted to
become one of the JPL scientists who are involved with exploration
missions. I was hooked on studying the Earth and planets. I returned to
my school excited for what was to come and shared my excitement with
others. I am happy to say that four students from my community college
participated in NCAS this year at JPL.
In August of 2013, I received an email from NASA Education saying that I had been selected to receive the Minority University Research and Education Program (MUREP) scholarship! The program guarantees two summer internships at any NASA center. Right away, I knew I wanted to come back to JPL. Although I come from a small community college, I managed to be a competitive applicant due to my involvement with science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs, such as the Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement Program and the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science.
This summer, for the first of my two NASA internships as a MUREP scholar, I am working in the AstroBiogeoChemistry (ABC) Lab measuring hydrogen and oxygen isotopes in hydrated clay minerals. Our goal is to improve instrument precision and techniques for possible future return-sample missions.
It's a dream come true to finally work in a planetary chemistry and astrobiology lab. I have the opportunity to meet researchers who are passionate about their work and be involved in exciting research. But I think the best part of the internship is my lab group. There are two other interns, two post-doctorate interns, a Ph.D. student, and my mentor. They all take the time to tell us about the work they're doing and, most important, mentor us as rising scientists. Throughout my experience, I have learned a lot about research, and I am inspired to continue in the STEM field. I was nervous before coming to JPL and didn't know what to expect, but being part of the ABC Lab has exceeded all my expectations. I encourage all community college students to apply for NASA opportunities.
Although my internship is coming to an end, I am happy to say that I will be back next summer to do more exciting research.
Learn more about JPL internships and fellowships