Elan lives dream at NASA internship

By Jade Inglada

Engineering major Ruben Cardiel, 19, had the chance to realize a part of his dream through a NASA internship.

Cardiel was one of 40 college students from across the nation selected for NASA’s National Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) program.

“It’s not often that you get an internship at your dream job,” Cardiel said. The sophomore found out about the program through an email he received from his counselor.

Cardiel sought more information and applied for the internship.

He found out he had been accepted during his work break while checking his emails.

“The entire family was happy and excited for my brother. We know of his capabilities and always try to encourage him to try out new things,” Daisy Cardiel said.

Cardiel is the youngest of his three siblings.

The internship consisted of a five week online course that allowed students to take quizzes, learn through interactive modules and hold live webcam interviews with NASA scientists working on real projects.

“They do a really good job at keeping you informed,” Cardiel said. “They take you step-by-step, and don’t just tell you, ‘Here, do this and we’ll see you in five weeks.’”

Once the five week course was completed, all the interns had to complete a final which gave them the chance to design a 3-D Mars rover and create a mission proposal.

The proposal had to include details such as who they would want on their staff, what they would do with the NASA funding and plans for public participation.

NASA employees were available to provide assistance throughout the duration of the program.

Cardiel was one of several interns that passed the final and was chosen to go on an all-expense paid three-day trip to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena.

During those three days, Cardiel and other students went on tours, heard from different guest speakers and participated in group challenges.

The students were split into four teams and had two days to create a sales pitch to NASA to fund their project.

The final presentation was to the director of NCAS, educational administrators and two team mentors.

Cardiel’s group, the Navy team, won with the best proposal.

Cardiel was unsure of what type of engineering he wanted to go into until he started at East Los Angeles College.

“He is very smart, but when he was younger he wouldn’t use his smartness to his advantage. He didn’t like doing work,” Daisy said.

“But once he started college he completely became dedicated to school, and now he realizes he could have done more in high school. I tell him, ‘Well, you can’t go back and change it, but you can change today and the future.’’

He wants to go into mechanical engineering with focus on aerospace. Cardiel mentioned that before he dies, he hopes humans are able to set foot on Mars and wants to be part of that goal.

Jared Castillo has known Cardiel since their senior year at Schurr High School and they are in the same Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics cohort, a program that allows a group of students to stay together while they take some of the same classes.

“Ruben is really encouraging. We help each other out a lot with our work and he’s just really supportive to all of our friends. He always tries to pick me up when I’m feeling down,” said Castillo.

Cardiel entered the cohort by chance as a freshman.

Cardiel had originally signed-up for a math class that had opened but due to an error, it became available to all students instead of those part of the cohort.

He asked the STEM director if he could enroll in the program, and after checking his high school grades and major, Cardiel was allowed to join.

Castillo said he feels encouraged to apply to more internships after seeing his friend’s experience.

Cardiel set high goals for himself.  He’s considering transferring to California State University, Long Beach to continue on with his major in engineering.

Once he earns his bachelor’s degree, he plans to attend graduate school at either the California Institute of Technology or University of California, Berkeley for his master’s and doctorate.

Cardiel said that his dream is to work at JPL.

“The actual definition of an engineer is to solve problems, and the idea of being able to solve a problem thrown at you, whatever it is, is really appealing (to me),” Cardiel said.

He encourages students not to be afraid to for apply internships, whether NCAS or at another company for a different major. Although he was involved in this internship, Cardiel still managed to find time to balance it with school and his job.

NCAS is still accepting applications for spring 2015 until Dec. 15.

Students interested in the program can learn more at ncas.aerospacescholars.org.

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