The stars are within reach for one Yavapai College student.
Lori McDonald, a massage therapist and hairstylist with offices in Jerome and Sedona, has been invited to participate in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars Project, the aim of which is to attract and retain students in the science, technology, math and engineering fields critical to NASA’s future success.
For McDonald, it was a bit of a shock to be accepted into the program.
“I gave up on engineering when it seemed like the doors were closed,” McDonald said, adding that she had run out of funds while attending Prescott’s Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “It came to be, every move I made, the doors just seemed to be closing. I decided engineering just wasn’t meant to be …. Now, my dreams from my previous life are starting to show up again. I don’t know how it’s all going to come together.”
McDonald described the initial tests as grueling but interesting. “When something like that ignites you, you grab onto it …. I just applied for it, and now here we are in the middle of the process of it.”
With her preparatory work for the project behind her, McDonald is now ready to begin the practical application portion of the program. On Sunday, April 23, she travels to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Southern California, where she will spend four days with a team, building and testing a remote-operated vehicle and managing a fictional company invested in Mars exploration.
A Yavapai College student since 2006, McDonald said, “I’m not happy unless I’m learning something.” She acknowledged that she still has a ways to go — up to two-and-a-half years of schooling — before she is able to make good on her previous goal of walking away with a degree in aerospace engineering and meteorology from Embry-Riddle, but getting into the NCCAS program has spurred her back onto the path.
“NCCAS has a legacy of alumni moving from NASA internships and ultimately entering the NASA workforce,” Davis stated. “It is rewarding to see the progression of a student from NCCAS participant to NASA colleague.”
Though McDonald doesn’t yet know which aspect of NASA’s programs she would like to explore, she knows she will find out.
“Head in this direction and the path will kind of just show me,” McDonald said. “No matter what, I’m not going to get bored. And, no matter what, the end of this opportunity will be life-changing.”