NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

Twelve high school students from Pasadena's John Muir High School will bring a wealth of new understanding in science and technology to their classrooms this fall after completing summer internships at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The students were part of the GeoSpace Academy, one of seven partnerships established by the Pasadena Unified School District and local businesses to strengthen students' training in specific fields.

The GeoSpace Academy was founded in 1991 to promote education in math, science and engineering. JPL is the industry sponsor for the academy and provides summer employment opportunities for juniors enrolled in the high school program.

The Laboratory placed science and math students in a variety of summer jobs this year in divisions ranging from space flight missions to advanced propulsion systems. Most of the students agreed at a closing ceremony on Aug. 26 that they had enjoyed working in such areas as the Laboratory's robotics and microdevices laboratories, the spacecraft assembly clean room facility and JPL's space flight mission control center.

"This has been a tremendous experience for me," said Craig Maser, a junior at John Muir High School, who set up an electronic library on the World Wide Web, a visually oriented information access system on the Internet. "Because of this experience at JPL, I'm considering a career in a computer-related field, which I had never really considered before."

High school senior Luis Rodrigues described his summer assignment working on tracking systems for the Galileo mission to Jupiter as both challenging and rewarding.

Rodrigues, who wants to pursue an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, worked on development of new software that will be used to reduce the amount of noise in data transmitted by the Galileo spacecraft during its satellite tour of Jupiter in 1995.

"I'd like to take one of those 70-meter antennas home and see if I could get a few more channels," he quipped during his final presentation to the Laboratory, teachers and Pasadena school district representatives.

The GeoSpace Academy has been particularly successful at giving students with an interest in applied sciences a meaningful learning experience and enough hands-on experience to show them how their interests can be applied in various fields.

"The academy offers them a curriculum of specialized courses and instruction modeled around the theme of space exploration," said JPL's Shirley Wolff, who chairs the GeoSpace Academy Advisory Board. "Students enter the program in their sophomore year of high school and, when they have completed the three-year program, they receive a specialized high school diploma in natural sciences."

Courses interleaved into the students' core curriculum at John Muir High School include integrative algebra and geometry; computer-aided drafting; laser technology; conceptual physics; applied chemistry and biology; science ethics and the environment; and senior projects in technology applications.

"It's amazing how much these kids know and how this program opens up their world," added David Banis, Pasadena Unified director of secondary instruction. "The partnership has been so successful that we've got students in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades asking us how long they will have to wait before they can apply."

During their sophomore year, students entering the program learn solid academic and research skills and are exposed to a variety of different applied science projects and aerospace careers. They are required to complete 100 hours of volunteer participation in community science fairs, middle school science projects or service with nonprofit organizations outside school.

In their junior year of high school, the students begin a one-year laser technology course offered at Pasadena City College. They are also introduced to mentors at JPL, who will stay in constant contact with them through graduation and guide them through a 10-week paid summer internship at the Laboratory.

During their senior year, the GeoSpace Academy students complete their laser technology course in addition to other advanced academic or technical courses offered by Pasadena City College, California State University at Los Angeles, the University of Southern California and Occidental College.

Some of the students are selected to participate in a second paid internship at JPL during their senior year. John Muir High School seniors Nacole Johnson and Hovannes Andikian, who worked in JPL's robotic systems and advanced computer technology section this summer, may have a chance to do just that.

The pair are planning to develop a reliability study of propulsion systems used on space shuttles and on systems proposed for future missions and the proposed U.S. international space station for a senior science project.

JPL's participation in the GeoSpace Academy is coordinated by the JPL Minority Science and Engineering Initiatives Office. Shirley Wolff of that office is the program coordinator and chair of the advisory committee. Alma Dillard of the Pasadena Unified School District is the district partnership academies coordinator.

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