Select Brookdale Community College students have been receiving NASA Fellowship grants totaling approximately $89,000 since 2015.
Dr. Gitanjali Kundu, assistant professor in the biology department, explained that Brookdale is part of the New Jersey Space Grant Consortium (NJSGC) which was established in 1991. The NJSGC distributes NASA grants that focus on enhancing and furthering Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education and research.
Since Brookdale has been receiving the grant, over 22 Brookdale students have been NASA Fellows and the college has received approximately $89,000 in grants. In the upcoming 2019-2020 academic year, Brookdale will be able to award the fifth cohort of NASA Fellowships to eight student who will receive $5,000 each.
“One of the impressive things about this grant is that students are able to do research here at Brookdale which many times students didn’t think they would have the opportunity to do,” Kundu said. She assigns mentors to the fellows which include Brookdale faculty as well as University of Pennsylvania, Monmouth University, and Rutgers University faculty members. “They have done wonderful research,” Kundu said of the students. She explained some of the research projects have focused on diverse topics such as drones, hybrid cars, and economic barriers to epilepsy surgery.
“The Brookdale NASA Fellowship has done a lot for my confidence and the opportunities that I have been able to receive,” said Karl Waldron, who graduated Brookdale last spring. He is currently studying at Rutgers University as a cognitive neuroscience major. Waldron explained he was able to present his NASA Fellow research at a number of professional venues including the Annual American Epilepsy Conference.
“Without the Fellowship, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to gain an extensive amount of experience prior to entering the workforce,” said Sameerah Wahab who graduated Brookdale in 2017 and is studying in cell biology and neuroscience at Rutgers University. She studied fungi while a NASA Fellow at Brookdale.
“The NASA Fellowship allowed me to take what I had learned up to this point and apply it in a real world situation,” said Robert Mennella, a current mechanical engineering major at Brookdale who received the NASA Fellowship grant this year. Prior to studying at Brookdale, he spent 10 years in the military and is an Iraq veteran.
Mennella worked with the NY/NJ Baykeeper Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting, preserving, and restoring the harbors, bays, streams, and shores of the NY/NJ Harbor Estuary, to engineer living shore lines to help fight beach erosion. “We came up with new ways and new projects that we were able to research, explore, and implement to install living shore lines,” he explained of his NASA Fellowship research. He is currently a restoration program intern for the organization.
In addition to the research, the NASA Fellows have provided free STEM peer tutoring for Brookdale students. Over 2,000 hours of peer tutoring have been provided since the program started. “The STEM students really love it. Many times, they really struggle with STEM courses, but they know where to go” to get help,” Kundu said.
“He was very impressed with the rigor and the tenacity which we are running the program for almost five years,” Kundu said of Dr. Haim Baruh, director of the NJSGC. “He gave the prestigious status to Brookdale Community College of being a NJSGC NASA affiliate,” she said of Baruh. Kundu explained Brookdale is one of only two community colleges in New Jersey to be named an affiliate.