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City Tech Wins Its First Grant to Build Partnership with NASA to Prepare Students for Aerospace Careers

City Tech students Roy St. Furcy (far left) and Yapah Berry flank Professor Gaffar Gailani.

City Tech was recently awarded its first funding from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The three-year, $442,000 grant is earmarked for the College’s project, “Achieving Proficiency in Engineering Research and STEM Education Through NASA Initiatives.”

As a result, City Tech students majoring in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields are working as full-time interns for eight to ten weeks this summer on research projects with NASA and Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) scientists.

The internships are at the New York City Research Initiative (sponsored by the NASA Education Office), Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. Before starting the internships, the students received a day of training to strengthen their research skills.

NASA is funding these research opportunities through its Curriculum Improvement Partnership Award for the Integration of Research (CIPAIR), with the goal of attracting more minority students to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The project aims to help increase the transfer rate of STEM field students from two- to four-year colleges, the graduation rate from 20 to 50 percent, and the retention rate from 44 to 65 percent, as well as make the college community aware of NASA’s mission.

With those goals in mind, City Tech is collaborating with CUNY-LSAMP (Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation) and Hostos Community College’s previously NASA-funded Proyecto Access Pre-Freshman Engineering Program (NYPREP). Four Hostos students will participate in the internships with NASA and GISS scientists.

This summer, project co-directors Dr. Gaffar Gailani (City Tech assistant professor, mechanical engineering and industrial design technology) and Dr. Nieves Angulo (associate professor of mathematics at Hostos) will work on research projects at NASA facilities. Also co-directing the project are City Tech’s Dr. Sidi Berri (chair, mechanical engineering and industrial design technology) and Dr. Reginald Blake (associate professor of physics and coordinator of the College’s Black Male Initiative, BMI).

“My students will have the opportunity to apply what they have learned in engineering and design to hands-on research projects at NASA. What a unique opportunity for them!” says Dr. Berri.  Adds Dr. Blake, “We are the only CUNY BMI program designated for STEM. Since this is a STEM grant, it dovetails with the mission of our BMI program.”

City Tech students Yapah Berry (mechanical engineering technology), and Roy St. Furcy (industrial design technology) are spending the summer at the Goddard Flight Center in Maryland. Their mentor is Daniel Kaufman, whose group is part of Goddard’s Mechanical Engineering Analysis and Simulation Division.

“We’re working on the characterization of shock tables, working on vibrations and shock response caused by shock loads that can influence devices operating on space shuttles,” says Berry, who lives in East New York, Brooklyn. “The physics and math I’m learning this summer will help me in classes I’ll be taking next year.”

Furcy, who lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, adds, “The experience here will definitely be beneficial to me, both in my career and in my academic life. The concepts being discussed and worked with here build on what I’ve learned or will be learning in class and in a work environment. I also feel being able to say I did research at a NASA facility will be a big advantage when I look to start my career.”

The other participating City Tech students include Anthony Frances, Carla Araile, Olivia Reed and Za-y-va Lareche.

Dr. Gailani, the principal investigator for this grant, came to the U.S. from Sudan in 1996 and now resides in Piscataway, NJ. He started teaching at City Tech in 2003 and became a full time assistant professor in the spring of 2009. His research is in biomechanics, poroelasticity – the study of the deformation of porous bodies, such as in bones (biomechanics), and computational mechanics. He became interested in poroelasticity and its application in biomechanics when as a CCNY doctoral student he worked under Dr. Stephen Cowin (Distinguished Professor of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering), an award-winning expert on the subject.

“I personally know how important mentors can be,” Dr. Gailani says. “Dr. Cowin provided me with encouragement and support in various ways. I have developed a unique approach to biomechanics research by working with him. He has inspired me and enriched my growth as a student and a researcher. Dr. Luis Cardos of CCNY’s Biomedical Engineering Department gave me invaluable experience in experimental methods while I worked on my PhD thesis.”

Dr. Gailani sees the NASA grant as a boon for students. “I am very excited about this project. It will help students pursue careers that are relevant to NASA, and give them the opportunity to join the future workforce in NASA and STEM-related industries.”

The grant will have a significant impact on both City Tech and Hostos’ curricula. City Tech will incorporate research components and NASA-related materials into three courses: Materials Testing, Computer Applications in Mechanical Engineering Technology, and Presentation and Simulation. The College will add two new multidisciplinarycourses: Project and Research Management (Mechanical Engineering and Industrial Design Technology Departments); and Remote Sensing (Electrical Engineering Technology Department). Hostos will incorporate the new material into its Differential Equations and Linear Algebra courses.

An agreement between Hostos and City Tech will enable participating Hostos students who complete their two-year degree to transfer to City Tech to complete a bachelor’s degree.

“The grant also comes at the right time,” says Dr. Berri, whose research interests include composite materials, vibration analysis, robotics, and bioengineering. “Our new bachelor’s degree program in industrial design just started up this past fall.”

To increase awareness of the project and the importance of STEM courses, a website, http://cipair.web.officelive.com/, will link to the City Tech website, informing the CUNY community about all programs and activities of this project.

For Dr. Gailani, getting the good news that City Tech had won the NASA grant was an indescribable experience. “The first people I called were my dream team, the administrators in College’s grant office who helped me write the proposal, Barbara Burke, Eleanor Bergonzo and Patty Barba. They provided invaluable support.” He adds that he and his colleagues definitely will apply for more NASA funding in the future. “NASA CIPAIR is just a beginning! Our dreams are big and the moon is not far.”

07.18.11


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