Mina Omerovic: Alfie Scholar Goes to Mars

Mina at JPL holding her Mars rover.

Alfie Scholar Jasmina “Mina” Omerovic (class of ‘20) was selected this year by NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to participate in a five-week online workshop followed by a four-day visit to the NASA JPL campus in Pasadena, CA. Her experience was fun, inspiring, and intense.

In just four days, Mina and her 40 fellow students were split into teams and tasked with designing a rover that could pick up rocks and return them to a designated homebase, simulating a rescue mission on Mars. They literally worked from sunup until sundown, staying at JPL campus from 7am to 9:30 pm each day.

“I was so exhausted when I came home,” Mina chuckles infectiously.

But it is an experience that could very well have changed the trajectory of her internal rocket as it ignited in her an enhanced passion for out-of-earth travel and mechanical engineering.

Mina became interested in engineering at the age of 26 while taking her first college math class. During her studies at Bellevue Community College, she learned about the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS), a program operated by NASA to help provide STEM opportunities to underrepresented students.

Mina meeting Curiosity in the Mars Yard.

At JPL, Mina and her fellow scholars got to meet NASA aerospace engineers and scientists, and tour places on campus we civilians likely had no idea even existed like the “Mars Yard,” a facility where Mars rovers such as Curiosity are tested.

Meeting the scientists and engineers working on these rovers inspired Mina. Not only were they working on projects that made her giddy with excitement; they were incredible humans.

“Everybody [at NASA] is so welcoming! You can come up to someone at lunch and ask them about their projects, and as long as their projects aren’t top secret, they will tell you about them.”

One connection Mina drew between her first year with Alfie Scholars and her experience at JPL is civility. The Alfie Scholars program discusses in depth what civility is, its impact on our world, and how we experience it throughout our lives. When at JPL, Mina thought, “these people at NASA are so civil! They don’t make you feel intimidated because they understand your passion; it’s the same as theirs.”

Alfie Scholars’ emphasis on leadership is another thing Mina thought a lot about during her visit at JPL. “It’s really cool that Alfie courses teach you how to be the leader you want to be. It made me more comfortable with being around these big headshots at NASA.”

As intensive as this program was at NASA’s JPL, Mina is ready for more. She now plans to apply for their highly competitive summer internship which selects 900 out of 10,000 applicants each year. The only way to apply is to submit your resume online, but the connections Mina made at JPL make her hopeful she will stand out.