Duncan Meyers, 32, an engineering student at Mt. Hood Community College, recently visited the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., as one of NASA's National Community College Aerospace Scholars.
Meyers was one of 80 students chosen from 300 applicants around the country. His prize: To work on a team to design and present ideas for a theoretical Mars rover mission to melt bits of the planet's surface to pave runways for eventual manned landings.
The team also had to come up with ways to fund the mission.
'I didn't know what to expect at JPL other than the cutting edge of technology and a lot of very smart people, of course,' he says. 'But what I really learned from this experience was the NASA proposal process - how to present an idea to NASA engineers and win a contract. That's going to serve me very well in my future as an entrepreneurial engineer.'
Meyers has already formed a start-up company to create new materials from recycled Styrofoam and may one day pitch his idea to NASA.
Meyers heard about the NASA program from Christina Nelson, another Mt. Hood engineering student who was named a NASA scholar last year.
'At Mt. Hood Community College, I have access to a great network of people and technology, plus good information on how to form a business,' he says. 'There are so many tools at your fingertips and mentors to show you how to use them.'