From football to space exploration, student eyes career with NASA

05.10.2018 | By Jeannie Peng Mansyur

PASADENA, Texas – Eric Mendez would describe his former self as a high school football player focused on the field rather than in the classroom. However, all that changed after he attended an Aerospace Academy event at San Jacinto College and found his possibilities to be as endless as outer space.

Mendez realized his love for mathematics and physics starting in college and began visiting the College’s Artificial Intelligence Technology labs where he learned more about the Aerospace Academy. Now, two years later, Mendez has a college résumé listing the National Aerospace Scholars program, a Texas Space Grant Consortium Design Challenge team competition, the San Jacinto College Honors Program, a job at Space Center Houston, and a NASA internship at the Langley Research Center near Washington, D.C.

“This has all been kind of overwhelming. I went from not being involved to having all of these doors open for me with NASA,” said Mendez, who completed a Texas Space Grant Consortium project this semester under the guidance of San Jacinto College professor Nate Wiggins. As part of the Design Challenge team, Mendez researched a mesh network to help support a healthy environment for astronauts. He was also selected as a National Aerospace Scholar to learn of past, present and future Mars missions through a five-week online class and a three-day on-site workshop at NASA-Johnson Space Center.

Dr. Janis Fowler, director of the Aerospace Academy, said part of the mission of the Aerospace Academy is to find students like Mendez and cultivate their interest of the aerospace industry and NASA by identifying available resources to aid their educational journey. 

“There is a focus on space commercialization right now, and the projects and opportunities around this are growing,” said Fowler. “It’s very important we start educating students early on about the STEM research and work being done in the aerospace industry today. A moon-based station and the journey to Mars are opening up new science questions and engineering challenges that the future generation will need to solve.”

The San Jacinto College Aerospace Academy provides science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)-based educational experiences for students enrolled in P-20 educational organizations. Its primary objectives include increasing interest and engagement for participation and retention of historically underserved and underrepresented K-12 youth in STEM careers - enhancing the pipeline of highly skilled, technical workers for the aerospace industry through collaborations.

The Aerospace Academy pursues research projects, space education, and scholarship opportunities for San Jacinto College students each year as well as hosts summer STEM camps for K-12 students.

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About San Jacinto College 

Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, since 1961. As a fiscally sound institution, the College currently holds bond ratings of AA and Aa2 by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s, respectively. San Jacinto College is a 2017 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence Rising Star Award recipient and an Achieving the Dream Leader College. Approximately 45,000 credit and non-credit students each year benefit from a support system that maps out a pathway for success. The College offers eight areas of study that prepare a diverse body of students to transfer to four-year colleges or universities or enter the workforce with the skills needed to support the growing industries along the Texas Gulf Coast. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $690 million each year to the Texas workforce. 

For more information about San Jacinto College call 281-998-6150, visit or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.