Skip Navigation

College News

Student helps design Mars rover model at NASA workshop

by Public Relations and Marketing | Published Mar 08, 2018

Nathaniel Leichty, a CLC Honors Scholar, was part of an eight-person team that placed second in a four-team competition to design and build a model of a Mars rover at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston Feb. 13-16.

The Wauconda resident also gained a few “nuggets” as prized as red Martian rocks: Project skills, NASA career mentors and new friendships with community college students from around the country. But most of all, he learned that a NASA career is attainable not just for students from prestigious Ivy League schools, but for anyone with self-motivation and study skills.

Nathaniel Leichty in a NASA group photo“The NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars experience has been the pinnacle of my time as a CLC student,” said Leichty, a sophomore geology major who plans to earn graduate degrees in either geology or another earth science field and work as a scientist for either a federal agency or a non-profit organization. Photo: Nathaniel Leichty, fourth from left, and his team designed a model of a Mars rover Feb. 13-16 at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

“For example, we attended a career pep talk from an Apollo 13 engineer, a high-school dropout who later earned a college degree and now works in information technology. Hearing those talks, and participating in the competition raised my self-confidence and made me realize that a NASA career is a real possibility, not a pipe dream.”  

Leichty was one of 171 U.S. community college students selected to participate in the experience, divided into four separate group visits. He qualified by completing an online application and finishing a five-week, online course last fall.

Leichty and about 40 other peers were divided into four competing teams. The mission: In two days, use Lego® Mindstorms® EV3 robot parts to design and build a prototype Mars rover that could retrieve four rock samples and simulate a mineral-content analysis within 10 minutes. Each team quickly had to form a fictitious company, clarify roles, work within a budget, resolve conflicts and ultimately pitch their idea to a panel of NASA mentors.

Nathaniel Leichty records an astronaut's greeting“At our graduation ceremony, we were shown a congratulatory video message from an astronaut and a cosmonaut aboard the International Space Station,” Leichty said. “It was very awesome.” Besides the rover competition, he toured a training module for the International Space Station and visited a pool used to prepare astronauts for a zero-gravity environment. Photo: Leichty (top right) photographs an astronaut and cosmonaut offering video congratulations, from aboard the International Space Station, to the graduates of the four-day NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars experience.

View upcoming CLC courses at or For details on the Honors as well as the Scholars programs, visit