Students Take Part in JPL Internship

El Vaquero Staff Writer

Out of 11 student interns chosen to perform research at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) this spring semester, eight were from GCC.?
Eric Dan, Peter Chu, David Fox, Sylva Ghazarian, Gideon Prior, Vacheh Sardaryant, Sona Sarian and Scott Chasteen were selected from students from several two-year and four-year colleges including Cal State L.A. and PCC. “It’s a terrific program,” said Richard Alvidrez, who manages the SIRI program at JPL. “The JPL mentors are very pleased; the Glendale faculty is very happy; the students are happy. It’s a win-win situation.”?

The student interns apply to various one-semester projects, including imaging data from Jupiter, forecasting west coast climate and reading multi-angle observations from space. The program is a continuation of the research program called SIRI (Student Independent Research Intern). From the internship program at JPL fall semester, six out of the eight students were from GCC.?

Alvidrez and Dr. Ralph Kahn of JPL developed this program to provide college students with research opportunities. “[Mr. Alvidrez] is so interested in all of us, and so willing to help us. He’s so supportive it’s disarming,” said Gideon Prior, a 28-year-old electrical engineering major.

Prior’s studies include robot vision, in which the researchers “develop autonomous navigational algorithms for small urban robots” to assist soldiers, and civilians in distress. These non-detectible robots can navigate on their own with minimal interaction. ?

Eric Dan, a 22-year-old physics major, analyzes images of Jupiter taken by the Cassini Spacecraft. “I think the program is a great opportunity for people who major in science,” said Dan. “I learn a lot about programming and the solar system. The program teaches you things you can’t learn in the classroom.”?

“I think the Science Center and professor Guglielmino have a lot to do with the relationship between JPL and [GCC],” said Alvidrez. “[GCC] gives a focus to the [sciences]” and “gives a good reason for having the internships.”?

Richard Guglielmino, assistant professor of physics, is the faculty coordinator for the JPL internships. Most of the interns are in Guglielmino’s classes, though they do not have to be to be considered for the internships. Jean Lecuyer, professor of physics and director of the Cimmarusti Science Center, helped to set up the program.

JPL sends projects for specialized work to Guglielmino, who in turn recommends students – JPL ultimately makes the decisions after interviews. Guglielmino also advertises this internship program, encourages students to apply, supervises and helps students with their resume, and after they are selected, he supports and assists the students. “He has prepared me for [this internship]. Guglielmino is probably the best physics teacher around,” said Prior.

This research experience is concurrent with a one-unit independent study class (the research at JPL itself). There is a possibility that a student may stay in a research position at JPL through college work-study paid through GCC. Two JPL interns from fall semester, Enrique Gonzalez and Armen Ohanian, were asked to continue in a research apprentice program.?

Students usually work between 10 to 20 hours per week at JPL. Dan said the time commitment can “make it really hard, since most of us still have a heavy load of classes at GCC,” but he is encouraged by the support from the management. “My supervisor takes all the time necessary to help me. He even works overtime to make up for the time he loses working with me.” With hard work comes privilege such as 24-hour access to the lab. “They trust us a lot,” said Prior.

The interns are mainly students studying physics, mathematics, engineering, and computer science, said Lecuyer. The background necessary for their projects at JPL varies. The students’ computer background and skill “range from advanced to beginners,” Guglielmino said. Prior stressed that he would have like to have known in advance the level of computer skills he needed for his project.

Students work independently and together with research scientists at JPL for a semester. They also attend training sessions every Friday. In one of these training sessions, there was discussion about job opportunities at JPL. “They don’t hire anyone with bachelor’s degrees without experience,” said Prior. He advises students interested in the internship program to take the application seriously.?

“In some ways, [this internship] is more than I expected. For the most part, it’s an amazing experience,” said Prior. “It could be one of the best things that has happened to me.”?

The SIRI program will continue for the next semester. Sept. 1 is when the next round will begin, and there will be notices posted in May. If interested, students should contact Guglielmino at (818) 240-1000, ext. 5359.