The Brookdale STEM Institute is proud to announce its tenth cohort of Interns in the NASA-sponsored Brookdale STEM Internships program, celebrating a decade of excellence in advancing STEM education and research.

“To align with the program’s goals and objectives, the NJ Consortium has transitioned to using the term “fellows” for graduate students and “interns” for undergraduate students,” said Karina Ochs, associate professor of Mathematics. “This year, four exceptional students have been selected to pursue cutting-edge research projects under the mentorship of distinguished faculty, alum and community members.”

Established in 1991 with generous support from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the New Jersey Space Grant Consortium aims to advance space science, aerospace, and STEM education in the Garden State. It also seeks to promote research and development within New Jersey. Due to the past efforts of Dr. Gitanjali Kundu, associate professor of Biology, and Dr. Susan Monroe, professor of Mathematics, Brookdale has been a New Jersey Space Grant Consortium (NJSGC) partner since 2018. This guarantees funding for internships every year.

To be eligible for this prestigious program, participants must meet several criteria, including being a US citizen, a full-time student at Brookdale Community College, majoring in a STEM field, and maintaining a GPA of 3.0. These criteria ensure the selection of the best and brightest minds for NASA-sponsored research projects. The NJSGC also requires longitudinal tracking of its internship recipients, which involves ten years of progress and career updates after the internship’s completion, in accordance with NASA’s request.

“The NJSGC has several goals,” said Ana Teodorescu, associate professor of Mathematics. “The part of the grant that funds us is concerned with expanding access to education to minority students in STEM. When selections are made, we don’t only look at students who have the highest grades, but at a combination of factors. We try to award the internships to students who will be meaningfully impacted by working on the year-long project, who continuously give back to the Brookdale community, and whose passion for their project is obvious.”

The Brookdale STEM Internships program spans one academic year, commencing each September. Interns must show consistent academic progress by earning at least 12 credits each semester within their chosen STEM program and maintaining a GPA of 3.0. Active involvement in a STEM club is encouraged, and interns are expected to complete the mentored project.

The following are this year’s extraordinary students and what they said about their research projects and mentors:

Jonathan Davis, Freehold Boro, NJ

Research Project: Jonathan will analyze the cost-to-safety ratio of rockets, examining ways to reduce costs by minimizing safety features and substituting parts. His research aims to maximize cost savings while maintaining safety standards.

Mentor: Alum Christopher Ochs, senior software engineer at Nokia Bell Labs, “I’ve chosen Christopher Ochs as a mentor because of his experience in designing software and programs, as well as his ability to think “outside the box”, said Davis. “This experience will give me firsthand experience working on long term projects for my future career and force me to manage my time better for my academics.”

Ashley Carrasco, Long Branch, NJ

Research Project: Carrasco plans to develop a program that simulates radiation levels on Mars and the Moon, which may also be applied to other planets. The project’s goal is to accurately convey radiation levels, aiding the search for Earth-like planets.

Mentor: Kevin Squires, instructor of Computer Science, “I took Programming II with Professor Squires,” Carrasco said. “He was always available to help whenever I was stuck on a coding assignment. He has built various projects in the past; and I believe his experience will guide me towards ensuring the research project’s success. My internship will enhance my programming skills and expand my knowledge in software engineering.”

Jessica Polyanskiy, Howell, NJ

Research Project: Polyanskiy aims to design a protective blanket for long-term space living in an environment with artificial gravity that will protect and minimize the effects of solar radiation.

Mentor: Tommas Riley, assistant professor of Chemistry, “I chose Professor Riley because he is currently working with Annmarie Hughes, associate professor of Fashion Merchandising and Marketing, on textiles in chemistry,” Polyanskiy said. “This research will sharpen my analytical and problem-solving skills. I expect to learn how to gather, evaluate, and synthesize information effectively. This research project will instill discipline, patience, and a commitment to thorough and meticulous work.”

Nicholas Benjamin, Manasquan, NJ

Research Project: Nick will focus on the cultivation and potential use of phragmites, a common reed found in marshlands, for food or biofuel production on non-arable land.

Mentor: Robert Gant, instructor of Biology, “I have chosen Professor Gant because of his enthusiasm about my project and his knowledge of biology, plant life and his connections beyond Brookdale,” Benjamin said. “This experience allows me to pursue a research project at the associate academic level. One of my goals when I transfer to university next fall is to minor in writing alongside my major in Chemical Engineering. This project will allow me to combine my passion for writing with my passion for science and prepare me for future research and environmental-oriented career opportunities.”

“The Brookdale STEM Internships program proudly supports the next generation of STEM leaders,” said Professor Teodorescu. “We look forward to seeing these outstanding Interns’ achievements and the valuable contributions they will make to STEM.”

To commemorate this significant milestone, each student in the 10th NASA cohort will receive $1000 at the beginning of the academic year and another $1000 upon completing their project in May 2024. These financial incentives further emphasize the Consortium’s commitment to nurturing the brightest talents in STEM.

To apply or for more information about the Brookdale STEM Internships by the New Jersey Space Grant Consortium, please contact Associate Professor of Mathematics Ana Teodorescu or Karina Ochs.

Featured photo Left to right: Ana Teodorescu, Nicholas Benjamin, Jessica Polyanskiy, Jonathan Davis, Ashley Carrasco, and Karina Ochs