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October 27, 2017

Student Jackson Conners takes love of astronomy to the next level.

Jackson Conners wants to work at NASA one day, but he can already list the space agency on his resume. Conners recently participated in NASA’s Community College Aerospace Scholars program.

Conners, a Johnson County Community College student, learned about the program from his instructor and mentor, William Koch, professor of Science.

Having a blast at NASA

The Aerospace Scholars gathered for four days at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas (you know, from “Houston, we have a problem …”). There, Conners was able to:

  • Meet NASA engineers
  • Learn about careers and internships in engineering
  • Participate in a one-on-one mentoring session with a NASA employee
  • Collaborate as part of a 12-student team to establish a space-exploration company
  • Design and build a Mars rover with a LEGO® Mindstorms EV3 kit

The automated rover needed to pick up and carry an item while maneuvering through a Mars-like environment. In preparation, Conners and the other members of his team completed a five-week online course with quizzes and a final project.

“Most of the people (on the team) were engineering students, and I was not, so I had a different skill set than many of the others there,” Conners said. His specialty was astronomy and physics. In fact, Conners would love to research theoretical astrophysics someday.

Sharing his research

He got a jump-start on his goal by conquering an honors contract with Professor Koch, investigating general relativity from pre-Isaac Newton to post-Albert Einstein.

Koch was so impressed that he invited Conners to present his research during an Evening with the Stars presentation, which usually is reserved for faculty to address the community on astronomy.

“I was pretty nervous in the time leading up to it, but a couple of weeks before, I was rehearsing and rehearsing what I wanted to say,” Conners said. “I think it went pretty well.”


Conners said he’s happy he made the choice to attend JCCC, not only for these opportunities but for the professors he’s met.

Professor Koch has been very helpful, he said, and, “I feel like I don’t have any professor I haven’t connected with.”

Shoot for the stars

Explore class offerings in physics, astronomy or engineering preparation at JCCC. Contact Lori Slavin, professor of Science, at 913-469-8500, ext. 3133, to find out how.

Honors contracts and other aspects of the Honors program will boost your learning potential. Contact Anna Page, director of the Honors program, at 913-469-8500, ext. 2512, for more information.