NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

Outstanding students from 25 southern California community colleges will be recognized in an awards ceremony as part of a new program called Jet Propulsion Laboratory Undergraduate Scholars (JPLUS).

The ceremony will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, August 21, at the Athenaeum on the California Institute of Technology campus, 551 S. Hill Ave. in Pasadena.

The new program, which began in May, each year will honor the leading first-year student in each of 25 local community colleges who are majoring in physical science, mathematics, computer science or engineering fields. Students are selected by the community college faculty near the end of the freshman year.

Students will receive $500 and a certificate naming the student as a JPL scholar for exemplary work in each of the first two years of school. During the summer between their junior and senior years, previously awarded JPL scholars will have an opportunity to compete for a $4,000 Caltech/JPL Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF).

SURF is an internationally renowned program that allows more than 200 undergraduate students each summer to research under the guidance of experienced Caltech or JPL sponsors. Programs under SURF have included students writing proposals under the guidance of their research advisors, and submitting those proposals to a committee for grants. Research carried out over the summer culminates in a technical report delivered orally by students in a symposium called SURF Seminar Day.

JPLUS was created by JPL's Educational Affairs Office as a way to reach out and support undergraduate level students using the extensive southern California community college system. "Community colleges are one example of the kind of strategic partnership that NASA encourages us to develop," said Richard Alvidrez of JPL's Educational Affairs Office, manager of the JPLUS program. "Rather than just working with one or two institutions, it makes sense for us to work with as many institutions as we can. Working with the community colleges has provided a significant multiplying effect towards our efforts."

An endowment was presented to JPL by Caltech last year in an effort to improve existing outreach programs and develop new ones. "JPLUS represents an expression of our employees who are very interested in support for students across California," said Fred Shair, manager of the Educational Affairs Office.

The JPLUS program is dedicated to the memory of Robert B. Leighton, a longtime physicist and astronomer at Caltech who began his undergraduate career at Los Angeles Community College. He is widely known for his work in solid-state physics, cosmic ray physics, particle physics, infrared astronomy and millimeter and submillimeter wave astronomy. He also authored the highly influential text entitled "Principles of Modern Physics." The dedication of the JPLUS program to Leighton's memory aims to show community college students what future possibilities they can achieve within Caltech, NASA and JPL. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

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