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NASA At Medgar



Faculty and Students Reach for the Stars

Three African-American Science Ph.Ds lead MEC’s NASA partnership into the future!

by Morgan Sankofa Powell

Dr. Shermane Austin’s recent research went public at Medgar Evers College (MEC) on Thursday, November 14. This distinguished computer scientist, her students and scientist colleagues joined together with NASA officials to celebrate a Crown Heights success story.  Great anticipation surrounds their package of finely tuned battery and solar panel-monitoring instruments.  This payload will be rocketed into low Earth orbit come December!

Dr. Shermane Austin, Director, CUNYSAT program and Professor of Computer Science at MEC

Dr. Shermane Austin, Director, CUNYSAT program and Professor of Computer Science at MEC

This achievement displays the impeccable creativity and analytical force housed at the intersection of Crown Street and Bedford Avenue.  Dr. Shermane Austin, Director of the CUNYSAT program and Professor of Computer Science at MEC reflected, “It is really exciting to come full circle on this project.  This has been a learning process for both faculty and students and we are really excited about the upcoming launch”.  The CUNYSAT Microsatellite program began with a Minority-Serving Partnership Award from the NASA National Space Grant Program in 2009.  The proposal was submitted in conjunction with Cornell University, where the NASA New York State Space Grant Consortium is based.

CubeSats (small satellites) are launched into orbit by NASA at no cost to selected colleges and universities under a workforce training program called ElaNa.  Medgar Evers College is the first predominantly minority institution chosen for this initiative.  CUNYSAT-1 included student participation from several CUNY campuses, including: Medgar Evers College, the City College of New York, the College of Staten Island, Queensborough Community College and Brooklyn College.  Students from Cooper Union, the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Cornell University also participated in CUNYSAT-1 development.


MEC faculty mentors included Dr. Leon Johnson (astrophysicist), Dr. Armando M. Howard (climatologist) and computer scientist Dr. Shermane Austin – all African-American — among others.  In the glow of this developing Medgar benchmark, we asked Dr. Johnson to provide some history.  He said that 1993 was the genesis year of MEC’s engagement with NASA.  He had gotten involved in a project active at schools like Brooklyn College and Columbia University which laid the groundwork for NASA grants coming to MEC within the following 24 months.  Dr. Austin was at City College back then and remembers the sonic boom of the moment as other CUNY schools parlayed new NASA research grants thereafter.  The future is bright, MEC has more in store.

“I am so proud of what these students and our faculty have accomplished on this project.  I hope that they will be an encouragement to other minority students considering entering the fields of science and technology.  We have a great Science, Health and Technology program here at Medgar Evers College and these students and this faculty are proof that we are heading in the right direction.”  — Dr. Rudolph Crew, President of Medgar Evers College

View the MEC laboratory where the CUNYSAT-1 program lives at

Of Note: 2013 is the 50th Anniversary of Civil Rights champion Medgar Evers’ martyrdom.  He is survived by Myrlie Evers-Williams, who has been involved with MEC over the years.  His legacy includes a level of access to higher education – diligently worked for by his and succeeding generations – not available to him.  The CUNYSAT-1 program is a worthy honor, indeed.  Black New York climbs in achievement, too with numerous victories from the archives of NASA.  Consider George Peterson of Scarsdale, NY who processed lunar pictures at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  Those photos were used to help select our country’s first moon landing site in 1969.