AUSTIN (KXAN) — Five STEM students at Austin Community College had the chance to experience a unique opportunity, one that helped pave the next step in their educational route. This was made possible thanks to a NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars Program (NCAS). It is a project designed for students interested in STEM-based careers.

STEM refers to studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These broad fields can actually open a wide range of opportunities and careers.

Catherine Stippick graduated from Austin Community College in May 2016. While attending classes at ACC, Stippick decided to apply for the NCAS program. “My physics teacher one day just briefly mentioned it in class,” says Stippick. “I was like, ‘well this sounds cool, I’ll just check it out.’ I’m really glad I made that decision.”

Stippick was also one of five ACC students selected to spend time at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Not just to visit, but to work alongside NASA engineers as part of this highly competitive scholars program.

In addition to working full time, this mother of two says she has this program to thank for helping her decide on and transfer to a university that would best fit her needs. She plans to transfer to a -year university in the Ffall.

Dr. Saad Eways, Assistant Dean for Math & Science at the Rio Grande campus, tells us, “Many of them want to study, for example, aerospace engineering. But they are not sure, so they go to NASA and they come back and they are sure. So I think it is an excellent, excellent experience because they get to learn something they don’t learn in the classroom.”

Jason Wheeler was also one of the few selected from ACC to participate in this program. He says he noticed another unique aspect while working with fellow students and engineers at NASA. Wheeler shares, “There was a wide range of people from all ages, all races, nationalities and religions and it felt like I was part of a program that included all of humanity”

Moving forward, both Stippick and Wheeler attribute the next step in their education to the experience and opportunities gained while visiting the Johnson Space Center. Wheeler tells us how he never thought of aerospace engineering as an option, but after participating in this program, he is now looking at ways to become an aerospace engineer, down the road.

When asked if there was anything Stippick wanted to share or let people know, she says “I would just encourage anyone to take that opportunity and go for it cause it was an incredible experience.”

If you or someone you know may be interested in participating in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars program, you can find more information on the application on their website.