Science Students Excel in JPL’s Laboratories

GEGHARD ARAKELIAN
El Vaquero Staff Writer

Students that were given internships last Fall to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) continue making important environmental and planetary predictions for the future.

Determining a weather forecast 15 years from now through oceanographic thermal readings or polishing a program that helps space rovers land on moons and planets are tasks that are not exactly expected from students attending a community college.

The type of person that pops up in one’s mind when mentioning such tasks might be a scientist with countless years of experience. At JPL in La Canada, 20 students from GCC can fulfill such tasks.

“At JPL [interns] are doing wonderful, [as a] matter of fact they are dong incredibly well,” said Richard Guglielmino, GCC’s physics professor who is in charge of collaborating with JPL and applicants from GCC who hope to be admitted into an internship. “They are doing better than we hoped.”

Through the Student Independent Research Internship program (SIRI), GCC students have held various intern positions at JPL since September. Their progress and performance have thus far pushed the envelope.
Students from campuses all over Southern California, including Cal State Northridge and UCLA, apply to become interns; the selection is then narrowed down to a few students from each campus.

“The commitment is about 10 to 15 hours a week in terms of becoming a JPL intern,”said Guglielmino. “Typically, for example, you get 20 to 25 students who apply and if we’re [GCC] lucky enough or good enough we get half those students,” said Guglielmino.

Though the selection is slim, students feel the experience once admitted as an intern is unforgettable.

Evan Battaglia an electrical engineering and computer science major, who as of February ended his internship, would reduce images of Saturn for analytical purposes.

“It was certainly a learning experience,” he said. “It’s great working with scientist…The physics department is great at GCC and great for giving students an opportunity.”

The jobs students are assigned vary and are quite distinct. JPL posts its openings and students apply for various positions.

“I’m working on a plume height project measuring the height of plumes from volcanic ash and dust to correlate with pollution and the impact it has on our environment,” said Chirley Mims, a physics student. “The opportunity was here at Glendale…It was there and I wanted to do it.”

Choi Kyungjin, who’s major is mechanical engineering, has a job that involves looking into the future. “We’re studying the ocean temperature and correlating with the rainfall to determine forecasts,” said Kyungjin. “We are trying to see the trend for the next 10 to 15 years.”

The interns not only excel in their scientific studies at GCC but also accomplish only what most adults many years older than them are known to do. “This year we have two students getting their papers published in scientific journals,” said Guglielmino.

Though the internships provide a unique experience for students, an internship is still a job. Aside from dedicating up to 15 hours per week, which does not include take-home work, interns at JPL have to focus on their lives outside of the laboratory.

“Every time I go [to JPL] I spend a lot of time immersed in my work,” said Hagopian. “I spend about 15 hours a week at JPL.”

“There are a lot of things for us to learn there [and] there are a lot of meetings,” said Maryam Dehghan another intern from GCC. “I would like to take this opportunity when I’m not busy, when I don’t have a full-time job.”

Though the SIRI program makes all this possible for students, Guglielmino would like to expand the limits of the internship program by making it available to all students involved in various subjects at school and not just in science.

“Overall, I’m ecstatic for the opportunities for our students at JPL,” he said. “The area I want to improve in is [expanding] this not just to JPL…and not just for the top students but for all students.”