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Chester Leoso
Chester Leoso

A highly competitive NASA program has selected a Leeward Community College information and computer science student for its next cohort. Chester Leoso was accepted into the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) program in January.

The program drew more than 5,000 applicants nationwide, and only 147 were selected with Leoso as the only student admitted from Hawaiʻi. Oklahoma State University is hosting the NCAS program (being held virtually this year) and will provide scholars with the opportunity to network within NASA to potentially earn internships or related jobs.

“Knowing the net probability of being accepted was 10% was fulfilling once that acceptance email came through,” Leoso said. “It’s one of those feelings that leave you to wonder the limitations of your abilities and you begin building confidence in yourself and capabilities.”

His interest in NASA and space exploration grew from a newsletter he received from Academic Advisor Rien Vidad. It led to a hobby involving the combination of art and physics to create works of art. Leoso also credited Leeward CC Counselor Amy Amper with his achievements.

“Leeward has been my co-pilot on my road to success in my academic career, directing me where to turn and what to avoid,” Leoso said. “Leeward CC provides students more than simply education. It’s up to individual students to utilize and maximize what Leeward CC provides to its students, it will always be in your favor so long as you take the leap of faith.”

The NASA program

This year’s NCAS program comprises three unique learning experiences, giving scholars a closer look at NASA’s unique missions while developing their talents, interests and passions as they pursue future STEM careers.

  • In their first mission “Discover,” scholars participate in a five-week online course to learn about NASA’s mission and research. During the course, they attend lectures given by subject matter experts from NASA, are guided by professional educators, engage with NASA’s interactive multimedia content, and interact with other scholars.
  • Upon successful completion, scholars may be selected to move on to the second mission, “Engage.” Scholars will compete in a STEM engineering design challenge, collaborate in a team environment, learn how to navigate NASA’s internships, and receive feedback on their personal resumes. Scholars may participate in a NASA-led gamified mission to the Moon or to Mars.
  • Some scholars will move on to the third mission, “Explore.” In this mission, scholars will work alongside NASA researchers to develop solutions to current challenges faced at NASA.

Beyond NASA

Leoso, who is on track to graduate in May, said he plans to further his computer sciences university education before eventually working in the field.

”I am so proud of Chester and excited to see his story continue to unfold,” said Amper. “He is also now an ICS tutor. It really does take a team effort and I feel privileged to work with such a wonderful ICS team…and our students who never cease to amaze me.”

Vidad added, “I’m so proud of Chester and can’t wait to see all that’s in store for him! He’s got such a bright future!”

—by Tad Saiki

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