PCC Sylvania student completes Mars rover program, but dreams beyond that

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Andrew Jozwiak, a Portland Community College Sylvania student, recently spent three days at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center to participate in a Mars rover camp.Andrew Jozwiak’s mind is on another planet.

Jozwiak, a student at Portland Community College's Sylvania campus, spent three days in late October in Huntsville, Ala., at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. He was one of National Community College Aerospace Scholars invited to spend time at a NASA facility this fall, participating in a Mars rover camp where he and a group of other community college students were tasked with devising an unmanned Mars mission.

“The area that I picked to go to is Nili Fossae,” Jozwiak said. “And it’s really scientifically intriguing because of the geology there. It’s one of the only places on Mars that’s been found to contain clay deposits.”

It’s a long and difficult journey to get from Cape Canaveral to Nili Fossae, but Jozwiak, who lives in Beaverton, knows something about long and difficult journeys.

Now 31 years old, Jozwiak got his GED certificate at age 16. He worked at a variety of retail jobs and co-ran an eBay business with his wife for a little while, but he hit a skid at 25 when he realized that what he thought was his passion was not something he wanted to do for a living.

“I loved writing (songs), but I never wanted to perform,” he recalled. “I mastered writing to the point where I could write about anything, in any form or style, and I had the writing part down. But I never wanted to perform, and I guess I never faced that truth. And then I realized that and kind of spent three or four years in a limbo, not knowing what I’m doing with my life ... you know, kind of got depressed about that, because that was what I wanted to do, and once I realized the grim reality of what performing is like, I just — I’m sort of introverted — I didn’t want to do that.”

After working some temporary jobs, Jozwiak hit rock bottom after being laid off for the second time in a year.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Andrew Jozwiak, a Portland Community College Sylvania student, holds a badge he wore for three days at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.“I sat in the employment office, like, ‘What am I doing with my life?’” he said. He remembers realizing, “I need to broaden my horizons and see more of the world.”

On the spot, Jozwiak said, he got on his bicycle and rode 6 miles to PCC Sylvania, where he signed up for classes and began working toward a degree. After a few mathematics and humanities classes, an idea of what he wanted to do with his life began to take shape, he said.

“I knew that I had an interest in astronomy and space in general, and I never thought of it as a viable career,” he said. “I never viewed it as something that I could realistically pursue.”

Under the tutelage of Rod Lee, a PCC instructor, Jozwiak found his world opening up into a veritable universe of possibilities. Ultimately, he applied for the NASA program and was accepted.

“I feel kind of honored to be able to help him along his path. It’s been a lot of fun,” said Lee, whose position at the community college is funded by NASA. Right now, Lee is teaching an online astronomy course, for which he has been designing an original curriculum with Jozwiak’s help.

“He’s an extremely bright guy,” Lee said of Jozwiak.

Much of Jozwiak’s NASA program was completed online, with the three-day camp at the Marshall Space Flight Center and rover mission as a capstone. His group’s plan was for their mission to blast off from Florida in spring 2018, deploying a rover at rugged, enigmatic Nili Fossae in the Martian southern hemisphere and launching probes to drill into the ice cap at its south pole. Along with the technical aspects of the mission, the group also had to come up with a detailed plan for promoting the mission, organizing events and designing a logo for public use.

Beyond that, Jozwiak had to write three final essays to complete the course. He received a 100 percent grade on all of them, he said with a sort of nonchalant pride.

He may have mastered Mars, but Jozwiak isn’t content with stopping there.

“There’s a multitude of reasons why we have to leave this planet,” he said seriously, adding that his long-term goal is “to figure out how to get to another star.”

Jozwiak hopes to finish his degree at Portland State University within three years — maybe two, if he pushes — and then go to the California Institute of Technology, home to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, to do research and get his master’s degree.

Lee said he encouraged Jozwiak to pursue a physics degree.

“There’s a lot of people that come here, and they find a niche, and there they go,” Lee said. “He was going to be an engineering major, and the more I talked to him, I said, ‘You know, you sound more like a physicist.’”

In addition to his NASA experience, Jozwiak was also one of 27 students at PCC who were awarded $5,000 scholarships this year from the Oregon NASA Space Grant Consortium. Twelve of the scholarship winners attend classes at the Sylvania campus, more than any other campus in the PCC system.

Contract Publishing

Go to top
Template by JoomlaShine