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38% of Community College of Philadelphia’s 2013 graduates majored in STEM fields

On May 4, NASA's Alan Ladwig served as commencement speaker for the College’s 47th ceremony. The day before, Ladwig, a graduate of Elgin Community College in Illinois, told STEM students that two-year colleges play a key role in the development of STEM workforces. A recent survey by NASA found 11 percent of agency’s workers held two-year degrees. Many of them, like Ladwig, went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree.

(Photo by Brady Dale)
This is a guest post by Earnestine Young, spokeswoman for Community College of Philadelphia. For more on NASA in Philadelphia, read about NASA's Space Apps hackathon that took place during Philly Tech Week 2013.

When NASA decommissioned its fleet of space shuttles, the agency lost its global brand. Without the regular flights, some Americans now think the agency is out of business.

Nothing could be further from the truth, said Alan Ladwig, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for Communications and Public Outreach, at a gathering of Community College of Philadelphia STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) students on May 3.

“I am here to assure you that NASA is alive and well,” he said, “and we are reaching for new heights for the public good.”

Ladwig brought his message of an evolving space agency to the College’s new $500,000 state-of-the-art biotechnology/microbiology lab at the Main Campus near Spring Garden Street, where professor Linda Powell, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Biology, hosted a chance for faculty and students to meet Ladwig and learn about emerging careers.

Powell has directed the College’s Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) grant for 19 years. The LSAMP program, supported by a National Science Foundation grant, has served more than 1,200 minority students by providing coaching, scholarships and workshops to help them expand their professional networks of mentors and industry executives.

Ladwig, a proud graduate of Elgin Community College in Illinois, told the students two-year colleges play a key role in the development of STEM workforces. A recent survey by NASA found 11 percent of agency’s workers held two-year degrees. Many of them, like Ladwig, went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree. Ladwig received these credentials from Southern Illinois University.

NASA’s priorities are changing to fit the times, Ladwig said. Commercial companies are taking on some of the agency’s former and present challenges—i.e., carrying cargo to the International Space Station, transporting astronauts to and from the space station and, in at least one case, aiming for a mission to Mars.

These companies are hiring cadres of engineers, scientists and technicians and creating opportunities for STEM graduates to explore new worlds. Meanwhile, Ladwig says NASA is addressing real-world issues and challenges related to earth science and asteroids.

Among its current mandates:

  • Robotically capture an asteroid and transfer it to lunar orbit for study
  • Develop a new heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System, and the Orion crew capsule to carry astronauts farther in space than ever before, including future missions to Mars.
  • Launch the James Webb Telescope in 2018 to explore how the universe began and evolved and search for life on planets around other stars.
  • Conduct research to help develop new tools and technologies to improve commercial air traffic management and designing safer, more fuel-efficient aircraft.

On May 4, Ladwig served as commencement speaker for the College’s 47th ceremony, where 38 percent of the College’s 1,934 candidates for degrees and certificates majored in STEM-related fields.

Ladwig told students if they remember nothing else about this talk, they should remember his advice to cultivate capable mentors.

“A good mentor will help you assess education and career opportunities, encourage you to take responsibility for your life, and help you chart a path toward personal fulfillment,” he said.

Ladwig, who has had an exemplary career at NASA serving as manager of the Teacher and Journalist in Space programs, announced to graduates that he will retire from NASA May 31. In many ways, he has served as a public face of NASA, representing it on “The Today Show” and “Late Night with David Letterman,” and in numerous space documentaries for the BBC, Discovery Channel and the Learning Channel.

Companies: Community College of Philadelphia / NASA

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