COM Student Wins Top Prize at NASA Internship

October 15th, 2021 - 10:09am

Person smilingKENTFIELD / NOVATO, CA—College of Marin (COM) student Rune Norderhaug is shooting for the moon, propelled by the institution and professors that encourage and support students like him that want to expand their academic horizons.

As a biology major, Norderhaug has spent the last two semesters deeply involved in NASA internships that are, arguably, not at all related to his chosen field of study. But that is sort of the point.

“The internship I’m involved in now offers more skills that I may not have gotten the chance to learn otherwise as a biology major in my internships with NASA,” Norderhaug said. “Typically, these kinds of opportunities are more for Engineering students, and it’s kind of weird for someone in my major to get this kind of access. But I really love to learn, and these opportunities have been great for me and my growth as a student and scholar.”

COM features a job and internship board and encourages interested students to apply for related opportunities. Should students have trouble finding something that interests them, COM has an internship coordinator to assist. The College encourages students from all backgrounds to expand their interests and apply for internships that may not necessarily be in their major programs. It is this approach, according to Dr. Antonino Cucchiara, instructor of physics and astronomy at COM, that has created more well-rounded students at the college that are ready to go on to successful careers or transfer to a university.

“As of 2021, the role of a university faculty in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields has morphed from academic success to the inclusion of more career mentoring roles,” Dr. Cucchiara said. “With this in mind, it is specifically important to expose community college students to the possibilities open to them by paid research internships funded by many private and public institutions.”

Dr. Cucchiara said COM strives to encourage its students to apply for internships that include presentations by diverse groups of scientists and that expose them a variety of opportunities, including those with NASA, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Defense and more in a variety of STEM fields.

“These experiences are fundamental to help students in their journeys before they get to those institutions, where they may be overwhelmed by many emotions and tasks,” Dr. Cucchiara said. “Their participation at such competitive programs not only boost their confidence but allow them to have a leg up in their career development, similar to their peers at prestigious universities.”

It was Dr. Cucchiara who encouraged Norderhaug to apply for the NASA Community College Scholars (NCAS) program last year. Norderhaug was selected for the immersive, two-part learning experience where students must interact and problem-solve with working NASA engineers. He and his team competed with other teams across the country to create a simulated moon or Mars landing, and NASA further challenged the students to be able to articulate and rationalize all parts of their planning process. Norderhaug’s team included college students on the west coast: Nicole Harlow, Jesus Lopez, Alison Mangario, Nic Alvarado, Austin Lake, Elijah Aldana, Yarden Levy, Arameh Beghdasarian, Shelby Mardruga, and Gabriela Manrique.

Their team took home the top prize.

Even though NASA offers biology internships, Norderhaug chose to continue with his new-found love of the cosmos, and he was accepted to the NASA L’SPACE Academy, an online, interactive program for undergraduate students in STEM. The 12-week program gives students a first-hand look into mission procedures at NASA with industry professionals.

COM offers a half-credit course that is designed to support students who have been accepted into internship programs. The course helps students develop professional skills and outline specific, measurable learning objectives.


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