Christopher Thompson: Opportunities for a First Generation College Student
As a child, dismantling every type of electronic device he could get his hands on was not uncommon for Christopher Thompson. He loved poring over the blueprints his father constantly brought home from his career in the oil and gas industry. His love for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) started at an early age, but pursuing it beyond high school was a challenge.
College was never an important topic of conversation within Christopher’s household, making it difficult to lean on family members through academic struggles. He was a first generation college student, so everything was a new and challenging frontier. In addition to school, Christopher also balanced working and being a full time dad.
"I always had a strong affinity for science and excelled within STEM related activities," Christopher said. "It was not until I was an adult when I realized becoming an engineer would be something I could enjoy."
While majoring in Chemical Engineering at Salt Lake Community College, Christopher became a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. One day he came across the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) website through an online advertisement.
"There is no way to put into words how much fun and how big of a challenge the NCAS program truly is," he said. "I enjoyed the sleepless nights spent with our team and getting to know likeminded people. It is something I will never forget."
Being part of the NCAS program eventually opened up doors for Christopher to take the next step in pursuing his dream STEM career. He became a NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC)/ U.S. Space & Rocket Center intern during spring semester of 2013. He toured MSFC facilities, attended educational lectures, and conducted STEM research and curriculum development.
Christopher used his strength in computer aided design (CAD) to produce graphic material. He also joined a three-person team to assist in the development of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) program for the Aviation Challenge at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.
Christopher’s internship program allowed NASA interns to work as U.S. Space & Rocket Center Crew Leaders. While employed, his primary duty was Crew Trainer was taking charge of multiple teams of elementary and middle school-aged children and leading them through an intensive three day Space Camp experience.
Christopher went on to graduate from Salt Lake Community College with his degree in Chemical Engineering and was offered a job as a Senior CAD Designer for Canyons Structural Consulting.
His advice to current community college students: "Stay the course. Make sure you recognize the amount of effort your success requires."
Christopher believes the NCAS program will open doors in all areas. "The NCAS program will open your eyes to possibilities you may have never even considered," he said.