NASA tabs RCC students with the right stuff for space program

RCC students Gabriel Fearing and Vincent Lewis were chosen to participate in the five-week online “NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars” program.

RCC students Gabriel Fearing and Vincent Lewis were chosen to participate in the five-week online “NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars” program.

Two outstanding students from RCC — Gabriel Fearing and Vincent Lewis — were chosen to participate in the five-week online “NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars” program. With several topics to select from, they each choose to address “Evolvable Mars Campaign.”

This portion of the program has just ended; those who excelled will receive invitations to a three-day hands-on workshop, where they will contribute to a team project directed by NASA engineers, attend briefings by NASA engineers and scientists, and tour NASA facilities.

Gabriel “Gabe” Fearing entered the United States Air Force in 1999, soon after his graduation from Gloucester High School. During his six-year stint, he trained as a combat weather meteorologist and served two years in Afghanistan. For a time after his discharge, he worked as a weather contractor in Oregon, then came home to join the Virginia Department of Transportation’s wounded veterans’ internship program.

Fearing has been attending RCC part time since 2008. He has completed an Associate of Arts and Sciences (AA&S) transfer degree, and plans to graduate in May 2016 with an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree in general engineering technology. His next move will be to begin work toward an Old Dominion University bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering technology. After achieving that goal, he hopes to pursue a career in renewable energy, possibly with Dominion Power, for which the NASA experience will be a good preparation.

“RCC’s administrative staff members are very positive and encouraging,” says Fearing. He singles out Dr. David Keel, RCC’s dean of student development, for special praise as having boosted his confidence many times. Faculty members who have earned his gratitude include assistant math professor Robert Parker, who gave him a good foundation to build on; and math professor Dr. Tom Mosca, who “was very influential to helping me relate mathematics to real life. He taught me calculus, but had a way of relating and applying the lectures to real world scenarios and situations.” It was Mosca who urged him to apply to the NASA program: “I didn’t think that I would be accepted, but I tried” — and his effort was rewarded. “When opportunities present themselves, you have to take them.”

A particular inspiration, Fearing says, has been RCC engineering instructor Johnny Cornett. “He has been an extraordinary influence on me as I have developed my interest in electronics, especially photovoltaics and renewable energy. He worked with me and coached me as I set up an operational solar panel and an automated meteorological observation station at RCC’s New Kent site. He has helped me develop my mathematics and electronics calculations skills by walking step-by-step through solutions and by offering second chances to prove my work. He has always been fun, fair, and consistent. I really appreciate his teaching style and methods.”

Also from Gloucester is Vincent Lewis. Because his mother and three sisters have all earned RCC degrees before going on to obtain higher degrees elsewhere, Lewis is well acquainted with the college. He enrolled as a part-time student in 2009, after completing his United States Army service.

“Many people like to compare and contrast the college and the military experience,” he says, “and I have been fortunate enough to experience both.” The similarities, he says, “include meeting new and interesting people, instilling a sense of discipline, and achieving personal goals. I began going to school here at RCC,” he explains, “because I was laid off from my job during the recession,” and he decided that furthering his education would give him more career options. “RCC has given me the extra knowledge I need to be competitive in the work force: better opportunities for advancement, and better wages.”

He has already received an AA&S transfer degree with specialization in business administration, and is currently pursuing a second AA&S transfer degree with specialization in pre-engineering.

“Going to RCC has opened so many doors for me that I am still undecided about the long term,” he states. “I would like to pursue something in engineering; it is such a broad field that it would include almost anything. But every field in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] is in demand.”

Ideally, Lewis would like to find a STEM-related job that “piques my interest,” preferably one where his business degree would also give him an advantage.

Lewis has nothing but praise for RCC’s faculty and staff, whom he calls “friendly and helpful. Everyone seems to go above and beyond what they have to do in order for me to progress.” He adds, “Every single professor I have had over the past several years has had some type of influence on me, and on what I thought about my education and my future.”

His special thanks go to Dr. Lekh Adhikari (chemistry); financial aid technician Mary Frances Brown; the RCC bookstore staff with its manager, Robin Charnick; Charles Crook (chemistry and physics); college success coach Rebecca Miller; Cheryll Tassone (history); Dr. Greg Boeshaar (astronomy); and Dr. Ron Flowe (English). Also, “Dr. Tom Mosca, who I see as a mentor and advisor, and Dr. Crowther [RCC’s president] for leading the school to be the way it is.”

He makes particular mention of Regenia Hill, the director of ODU’s satellite campus at RCC, who after Lewis received his business degree “showed me that I had other career options. She opened my eyes to the STEM careers that were opening up, and how it was such a growing field.” He concludes, “Without these people in my academic career, I would not be where I am today.”

In addition to the three-day NASA workshop mentioned above, Fearing has been accepted for “Sea Level Rise Service Learning,” a course to be sponsored by the Virginia Space Grant Consortium through the “STEM Takes Flight” program, and held at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. This online course features four days of fieldwork at Wallops Island in April.

Lewis has also applied to a “STEM Takes Flight” program, in his case the “Build/Fly/Learn Team Research Experiences.” This program, also held on Wallops Island, runs for 10 weeks over the summer. Lewis will learn in mid-March whether he has been accepted.