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Santiago Canyon College Student Visits NASA’s JPL as Part of National Community College Aerospace Scholars Project


​Mars Mission proposal and binary-black-hole research lead to multiple high honors for Orange student

Orange - He was hooked from the moment he read an astronomy book in second grade. After that, he read every astronomy book in his school library. Combine that with recently being selected as one of only 40 community college students in the nation to participate in a three-day Mars Rover project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasad​ena, and spending a summer researching binary-black-holes, it’s confirmation of his life goal: to work for NASA.

In February, Santiago Canyon College (SCC) student Haroon Khan of Orange was selected from more than 1,000 applicants to participate in the National Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) project, a semester-long scholars program culminating in a three-day on-site event at JPL offering students the opportunity to interact with NASA engineers while learning about careers in science and engineering. Khan’s hypothetical Mars mission proposal, “The Mars Subterranean Hydrothermal Exploration Rover – MaSHER,” which included a 3-D design, objective, launch and travel timeline, and budget, bolstered his admission into the program with a 97% score, while the average score was 30%.

“During my time at JPL,” says the 21 year-old electrical engineering major, “I knew, this is why I want to be an engineer.” Khan’s proposed mission involved landing the MaSHER rover in Mars’ Valles Marineris canyon with the primary goal of finding underground sources of water, gas, and/or potential life-sustaining materials. Another objective of the mission was to test the effectiveness of harnessing wind on Mars as an energy source using WindBelt technology. A poster summarizing Khan’s program is available here.

Before receiving the NASA honor, Khan was selected last summer to participate in the intensive eight-week Summer Research Undergraduate Experience at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF), also known as STEM2. Khan joined the Gravitational–Wave Physics and Astronomy Center where he assisted CSUF Professor Geoffrey Lovelace, Ph.D. with research on the mergers of binary-black-hole systems using computer simulations on the ORCA cluster. This summer, Khan will be returning to the program not as a student but as a research assistant for Lovelace running advanced experiments, and assisting with Cal Tech projects.

On April 14, Khan received the highest honor that the Honors Transfer Council of California bestows on a student—the Director’s Scholarship for his research on “Simulating Binary Black Hole Mergers to Predict Gravitational Waveforms.” Khan, who will also have the opportunity to publish his abstract, was selected out of 300 community college students throughout California.

SCC counselor Phil Crabill has been Kahn’s counselor during his two years at the community college. “Haroon came in as an electrical engineering major, but I’ve seen a new found interest in physics,” says Crabill.

Khan admits that through his multiple honors and opportunities, he has fallen in love with physics. In the fall he will transfer to a four-year college where he’ll declare a major in electrical engineering , and a minor in physics.

The son of a Pakistani-born civil engineer dad and school teacher mom, Khan says that he and his parents alike are stunned at his accomplishments. “My dad says ‘we didn’t expect you to do so much in a very short time,’” remarks Khan. “I’m amazed, too.”


About Santiago Canyon College
Santiago Canyon College (SCC) serves about 14,000 students each semester. The college prepares students for transfer to four-year institutions and careers, and provides courses for personal and professional development, as well as customized training for business and industry. The college is recognized for its adult education program which keeps the working adult—and senior—in mind by offering flexible schedules, and community locations. Serving the residents of Anaheim Hills, Orange, Tustin, and Villa Park, SCC is one of two comprehensive colleges under the auspices of the Rancho Santiago Community College District.
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