NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars

The Man Behind the STEM Student

Sarkis Tashjian in the Mars YardMy name is Sarkis Tashjian.  I’m from Pasadena, California, and lived there my entire life. I went to Armenian schools growing up; our school curriculum was structured uniquely, giving me a different student perspective. It wasn’t until I began attending community college that my career interests solidified, and I discovered STEM an important discipline to pursue. But before this message hit home for me, life, as it does, happened.

Early on, my high school experience shaped the way I perceived the world. I didn’t do well, although I knew I was intelligent. After I took a few math courses at Pasadena Community College (beginning with Algebra I), I realized I loved math. I searched for a major with as much math as possible and decided on mechanical engineering as a general direction. I worked hard, stayed busy, and took the maximum number of credits each term. When I identified a gap in my knowledge base, such as geometry, I studied and taught myself the subject at night. 

In the midst of all this, my dad passed away. This was very difficult for me and I disconnected from a lot of things—but I also felt a moment of startling clarity. I began to see myself as a strong, successful, driven person. Even if you suffer a loss, you can’t give up everything. You can’t give up hope.

This is also when I realized the only thing that can stop me is me.

Sarkis Tashjian at the Space Suite Simulator GroupThis information was useful in my preparation for NCAS. Participating in NCAS, I wrote pages and pages of notes in small handwriting. I needed to study this, make it real in my head. The ideas began formulating from there—big ones, for my project mission. So many things were going on that semester, but I managed to get a 4.0 and was selected to be a participant in the 3-day onsite workshop. We were given a Mars mission challenge. I served as the project engineer for a team of nine, applying leadership skills I had recently learned at a school retreat. After the experience, and the exposure to all things NASA, I was determined to continue pursuing my education.

I consider NCAS my first NASA experience before beginning a 14-week internship at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. I see JPL as my #1 prospective employer for the future; I love the environment and atmosphere. Before I began my internship, I had no programming experience, so I started hammering in Python and learned it as a part of a brand-new roll out of a program we’re developing to increase system functionality. It’s exciting to be a part of a project from its inception, to feel as though I’ve left a mark. I most recently got the opportunity to be a keynotes speaker at the 2014 NCAS at JPL. I see this as taking my mission full-circle!

I’m currently attending UCLA. There are very smart kids coming here, but what I feel I’ve gained in my personal journey is wisdom, experience, and maturity. My ultimate goal is to study artificial intelligence with regards to robotics in space. As humans, we try to adapt to the Earth, which is great, but the universe is much greater than what we see in front of us. Space exploration is key for humanity’s future.

As far as any student interested in STEM, I applaud you for taking responsibility in our world, you can be one of the bigger impact-makers for the future. STEM can’t fail. It’s enlightening, it’s important. Stay interested, find new topics that spark your imagination and your creativity. You want to be able to have a broad perspective when approaching problems; because this is space. This is NASA!