NASA scholarships, space grants pile up at PCC, thanks to physics instructor

Good STEM can come in small* packages. Take Portland Community College, for instance.

When you think of science and research in the Portland area, at least in terms of academia, your first thought may run to Oregon Health and Science University or four-year institutions such as Portland State University.

However, for many students in the area, the pursuit of a degree in science, technology, engineering or math can begin at PCC or other nearby community colleges.

Lower costs, greater flexibility of class schedules and smaller class sizes can be incentives for new or returning college students to start working on STEM requirements at community colleges. Plus, PCC and other area colleges offer dual-enrollment options, making transfers to universities easier later on.

And when it comes to STEM, PCC has had more than a few victories in recent years — with dozens of students winning national NASA scholarships and space grants.

Quintuplet Cluster is shown in this image from NASA's Hubble Telescope. (Credit: NASA)

Quintuplet Cluster is shown in this image from NASA’s Hubble Telescope. Dozens of Portland Community College students in recent years have won scholarships from the space agency or space grants. (Credit: NASA)

In highlighting the students’ achievements on its website, the college points to one physics instructor as being instrumental in their success.

That instructor is Toby Dittrich, a member of the Oregon NASA Space Grant Consortium and a climate change researcher with the Juneau Icefield Research Program in Alaska.

Of Dittrich, a profile on the PCC website says: “He has been key in encouraging PCC students to apply for state space grants and national NASA internships and scholarships. Since 2009, PCC has had 56 state scholars and 10 national NASA interns or scholars. This year the college scored 27 OSGC scholars, the most of any institution in the state out of 20 affiliated schools.”

You can check out more about Dittrich, his work at PCC and beyond on the PCC website.

A brief item about PCC’s NASA and space grant scholars also is available on the college website.

If you know of Portland-area STEM instructors, students, and applied or academic researchers involved in great work, please let us know. Science In Portland would like to profile more of our area scientists, science students and science enthusiasts. And they only have to fill out a short list of questions for us, which we’ll run as a Q&A on this blog.

You can preview the questions in an earlier post on SIP. Potential profilees can answer as many or as few of the questions as they are comfortable with, and we may follow up with a clarifying question or two as needed. Note that all submissions will receive review and consideration, but submission is not a guarantee of publication on the blog.

Susannah L. Bodman
Twitter: @Sciwhat
Facebook: Sciwhat.Science

(*”Small” in this instance is intended to refer to the shorter duration of programs at PCC and other community colleges: two years, ideally. And often community colleges also are smaller institutions in terms of enrollment and/or footprint. However, PCC is an exception. With a fall 2013 enrollment of 41,572, it outpaced Oregon State University, Portland State University and the University of Oregon, which had enrollments of 27,925, 28,766 and 24,548 respectively during the same time frame. Although, with dual enrollments, it’s likely some PCC students also were PSU students, but I digress. The point is this: Take the “small” reference with a grain of salt. I was stretching a bit on my word choice.)

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