RAYMOND – Hinds Community College alumna Rebekah Olson of Pearl had a 10-year career as a graphic designer and was working for a domestic violence and human trafficking center as a communications manager when the pandemic hit. Inspired by the clients she served at the shelter she asked herself, “Is there anything more I can do that will help?” That’s when she decided to follow a gut feeling she had- that she needed to learn more about cyber security.
“I have seen how easily predators and abusers use technology to prey on the vulnerable. So I enrolled in IT classes at Hinds,” Olson said.
As a nontraditional student at age 33, Olson was among student applicants invited to attend a week-long on-site NASA summer conference with activities aimed at exposing students to STEM opportunities and to the personality traits NASA looks for in their employees.
The Utica Campus of Hinds Community College was initially in partnership with NASA and an aerospace educational enrichment program for young scholars in 2019. It was a program aimed at opening up opportunities to underserved communities. In 2022 the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars program opened the initiative up to community college students at large.
Students who attend the NASA summer camps get to experience what it might be like to work for NASA and they get to participate in activities that advance their abilities in STEM, which further prepares them for work in STEM fields. The program is divided into three missions crafted to challenge and increase student knowledge and skills while focusing on NASA’s mission goals, collaboration with peers and with experts in the field, plus giving them the opportunity to explore NASA’s career pathways.
After completing a five-week online course for NCAS, Olson was invited to the program being held at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. She said her first impression with the staff was a breath of fresh air.
“It was really refreshing to meet people that were so excited about their jobs,” Olson said. She said the things that impressed her most were the way NASA colleagues fostered the sense of teamwork and acknowledged perseverance and determination as character traits that NASA is looking for when hiring talent.
“They really noticed people who had grit and showed a lot of determination,” Olson said. “You don’t have to be the top of your class in math or science or chemistry if you are interested in NASA. They are looking for people who, when in a situation where a problem needs to be solved, are determined even in the face of doubt. One thing I thought was amazing is how they said they look for emotional intelligence: emotional stability, not just intelligence in STEM subjects. They emphasized the importance of teamwork. And another thing that was very important was being able to admit failures and learn from them.”
In December 2022, Olson earned two associate degrees in Information Technology, one in Cyber Security and one in Computer Networking. Soon after graduation she landed an IT position as a Front-end Web Developer with the Jackson-based Phi Theta Kappa-International Honor Society.
Student eligibility for the NCAS program includes being a U.S. Citizen, being a high school graduate and at least 18, being enrolled in or have completed nine hours of STEM courses at a community college, and the ability to commit to a 5-week online session.
To apply, visit the NASA STEM Gateway [stemgateway.nasa.gov] and sign up. Click on “Explore Opportunities” and look for “College STEM Experiences.”