Four MCC students selected as NASA Aerospace Scholars

MCC students Stefen Mercado, Kristin Shelledy, Derek Fermaint and Brad Laughlin.MCC students Stefen Mercado, Kristin Shelledy, Derek Fermaint and Brad Laughlin.

MESA, Arizona – April 5, 2016 – Stefen Mercado (Mesa), Kristin Shelledy (Tempe), Brad Laughlin (Tempe) and Derek Fermaint (Chandler) have been selected to participate in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) National Community College Aerospace Scholars project (NCAS).

The five-week scholars program culminates with a four-day, on-site event at a NASA flight research center and offers students the opportunity to interact with NASA engineers and others as they learn more about careers in science and engineering. While at NASA, students form teams and establish fictional companies interested in Mars exploration. Each team is responsible for developing and testing a prototype rover, forming a company infrastructure, managing a budget and developing communications and outreach.

The on-site experience at NASA includes a tour of facilities and briefings by NASA subject matter experts.

“This experience is a dream come true,” Fermaint said. “With my experience at NASA I hope to continue learning how to solve complex problems and find out what it takes to be a great engineer. Thanks to the life changing experiences MCC has provided me, I have the confidence to take on these challenges.”

Fermaint and Laughlin will travel to Armstrong Research Flight Center in Edwards, California April 10-13. Mercado and Shelledy will go to Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas May 22-25.

Laughlin said he never expected to be accepted into the program, but was thrilled when he was notified he had been chosen.

“I have already learned an enormous amount of knowledge through this experience, and also gained experience by completing the final project,” Laughlin said. “It is hard to describe how this opportunity has changed me because my entire scholastic focus has shifted, and I haven’t fully decided where I want to head, but I can say that the path I will take will be a lot brighter than my previous one.”

Mercado said he has always been fascinated by space exploration and would like to work on propulsion technology.

“I feel that I can learn a lot about the space industry from the NCAS onsite workshop so that I am better prepared to contribute as I further my education,” Mercado said.

For Shelledy, the opportunity is extremely helpful in her career pursuit.

“I am interested in pursuing aerospace pharmacy, and the NCAS program was the natural next step in my own ‘journey to Mars,’” Shelledy said. “I am looking forward to meeting NASA scientists and learning how they work every day.”

NCAS is funded in part by the Minority University Research and Education Program (MUREP), which is committed to the recruitment of underrepresented and underserved students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to sustain a diverse workforce.

With this project, NASA continues the agency’s tradition of investing in the nation’s educational programs. It is directly tied to the agency's major education goal of attracting and retaining students in STEM disciplines critical to NASA’s future missions, which include missions to Mars and beyond.

“NCAS not only inspires community college students to advance in STEM fields, but it also opens doors for future careers at NASA.  NCAS has a legacy of alumni moving from NASA internships to and ultimately entering the NASA workforce. It is rewarding to see the progression of a student from NCAS participant to NASA colleague,” said Tania B. Davis, Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) Manager in a press release.

MCC alumni Heather Thomas, a 2011 NCAS scholar, currently resides in Houston, Texas, fulfilling her dream of being a full time NASA employee. Her story is available on NASA’s website at:

For additional information, please contact National Community College Aerospace Scholars by email at or by phone at 281-483-0493. For more information, visit  For more on MUREP visit:    

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Dawn Zimmer, 480-461-7892,
Sally Mesarosh, 480-461-7283, 

Mesa Community College is nationally recognized for its service-learning, civic engagement and innovative educational programs, which include university transfer, career and technical, workforce development, and life-long learning.  Host to 40,000 students annually, MCC offers more than 195 degree and certificate programs at its two campuses and additional locations.  MCC’s student body hails predominantly from the East Valley of Phoenix and includes Veteran, American Indian and International students who enrich the learning experience. Award-winning faculty are dedicated to student success providing the education and training that empowers MCC students to compete locally and globally. MCC is one of 10 colleges that comprise the Maricopa County Community College District. The District also includes the Maricopa Corporate College and two skill centers. For additional information, visit

Mesa Community College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), 800-621-7440.

The Maricopa County Community College District is an EEO/AA institution and an equal opportunity employer of protected veterans and individuals with disabilities.

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Publication Date: 
Tuesday, April 5, 2016