Student Spotlight: Kaitlyn Parhm
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Student Spotlight: Kaitlyn Parhm

Kaitlyn Parhm always knew that finding answers in engineering often requires trying out several different ideas. She recently experienced this firsthand when she was selected to be a participant in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars program.

"We were in charge of building a rover, and there was a lot of trial and error and rebuilding," said Parhm, an El Camino College engineering and psychology major. "Seeing the rover fail four times and then actually work was amazing. It was able to pick up things, conduct mineral testing, and speak. We also programed it to run through a course."

The program began with a five-week online session and a grand finale at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Students made teams and worked together to develop and test a prototype rover, forming a company infrastructure, managing a budget, and developing communications and outreach. Many students find that participating in this program helps them look at multiple areas of study and major concentrations.

"Working with this program and traveling to Florida was an amazing opportunity, I mean, who doesn't want to work with NASA?" Parhm said. "I learned programing, was able to meet and network with people and learned from the best. People who work with NASA are so great – they break stereotypes of the serious scientist; they are really relatable and willing to share their knowledge and experience."

Parhm was one of several El Camino College students to join NASA programs this year. She heard about the opportunity from math professor Susan Taylor who has helped her through challenging courses. Parhm enrolled in El Camino after working for a year as a pharmacy technician; she earned her pharmacy tech license while still attending City Honors College Preparatory Academy in Inglewood. When not in class, Parhm is devoted to her nonprofit, Inglewood's Helping Hands, which supports her Inglewood hometown through a variety of activities such as organizing community cleanups, providing basic needs assistance such as food/toiletries, and donating holiday toys to area children.

At El Camino, Parhm found supportive instructors and new academic and career opportunities. She also tutors fellow students at the college's SEA Village.

"El Camino was the best choice for me," she said. "It was quiet enough for me to get things done without being distracted. I've had really good teachers, too. To have a math class with supportive professors who really care made a difference. I don't know if you find that level of dedication at other schools."