Daniel Valencia-small.jpgRiverside City College student Danny Vale­ncia’s dreams live in the stars.

      Valencia, who is from Ecuador, recently completed the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) program. He is one of four students who have participated in the program that gives community college students an “authentic NASA experience.”

      NCAS consists of a five-week online course followed by a four-day engineering design workshop at a NASA center. Workshops take place in the spring and fall semesters. Applications are currently being accepted for the next NASA experience. Deadline to apply is October 16, 2017. For more information, email

      “The best part of the experience was that I got the opportunity to work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL),” said Valencia, 25. “I have always dreamed of working at NASA, and to finally be somehow part of it was incredible.”

      Valencia was a member of a team, one of four, that were given assignments to complete as a team. His team was to develop a rover for rock extraction and for rescue missions on Mars.

      “We played the role of a company whose purpose was to get a contract with JPL to work on the Mars 2020 mission,” he said. “I was part of the assembly team, and together we built a rover focused on versatility and simplicity. On the final day, my group made a presentation about our progress and we ended up winning first place.

      “I enjoyed working with my group because all of us were focused on winning. We spent a lot of time working, sometimes we didn't get enough sleep, but everything paid off at the end.”

      NCAS is an interactive online learning opportunity highlighted by a three-day experience at NASA. Selected students are encouraged to study mathematics, science, engineering and computer science by interacting with engineers at different NASA centers. The project includes preliminary interactive web-based activities and an onsite experience during the fall or spring at a NASA center. Students from across the nation are chosen to participate through a competitive process.

      “We at RCC STEM are so proud of Danny,” said Heather Smith, professor, Life Sciences and STEM program coordinator. “He is an exceptionally talented student who overcame fear and took a chance when he applied for the NASA NCAS program.  He applied for the program, was accepted, and represented himself and RCC very well.”

      Students selected for the program need to be currently pursuing their initial undergraduate degree at a community college and have an interest and aptitude for mathematics, science, engineering or computer science.

      “I would definitely encourage students to be part of the NCAS program,” said Valencia, who is majoring in mechanical engineering and is considering UC Riverside or UC Irvine in order to complete his undergraduate studies. “Especially, if they are interested in any STEM related majors. This kind of an opportunity is life changing. In my case it encouraged me to keep working hard until I succeed. This experience definitely encouraged me to stay on my career path because I experienced what I want to do after I get my degree.”