Campus: CSU Bakersfield -- May 29, 2002

Student Lands First Mission to Mars Through the Geology Department at California State University, Bakersfield

Most college students have high hopes for their future careers but Rick Schroeder's are out of this world. He plans to become an astronaut, and just landed his first mission to Mars through the geology department at California State University, Bakersfield.

In June, Schroeder will head to Pasadena where he'll be working on the Mars Radar Data Analysis research program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to collect data for the launch of the 2003 Mars Exploration Rovers. The prestigious internship was granted through the California Institute of Technology's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program.

Internships through SURF are primarily reserved for Cal Tech students with less than half of them going to students from other schools. This year, Schroeder was one of only 160 students accepted from other universities worldwide.

According to SURF director, Carolyn Ash Merkel, the internships are modeled after the grant-seeking process and almost completely student driven. Students receiving them represent some of the world's most ambitious future scientists.

"Students who get into SURF are students who have a great deal of initiative, drive and enthusiasm for having this kind of experience," Merkel said. "They are passionate about science or engineering and students who fit those descriptions are not that prevalent in the whole scope of undergraduates."

Before being selected, Schroeder had to find a mentor at JPL, collaborate with him on a research project and have his proposal reviewed and selected by a faculty committee - something Merkel said is tough to do. Schroeder said he couldn't have done without the help of CSUB's geology faculty.

"Rob Negrini (CSUB geology professor) helped me find the internship," Schroeder said. "He knows what I want to do and has been a great inspiration in working towards my goals. The whole geology department has been great. Here, they know me by name and they're always there and willing to help."

Becoming an astronaut has been a life-long dream for Schroeder. He's from Bakersfield and graduated from Stockdale High School in 2000. The CSUB senior is a double major in geology and computer science and currently holds an internship with Aera Energy as a geologic technician.

But Schroeder's not the only CSUB geology student with big plans for the summer. Sophomore Vanessa Perez is heading for Casper, Wyo. where she'll record data at the Rocky Mountain Oil Field Testing Center for the U.S. Department of Energy.

Perez is also from Bakersfield and graduated from East High School in 2000. She's a member of the SMART (Science, Mathematics, Research & Technology) graduate scholarship program, which requires her to complete an internship every summer. Last year, she worked for the California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources.

Perez plans to become a petroleum geologist. She's excited about her assignment and believes her internship experiences show her dedication to the field.

"It's always great to get more experience," Perez said. "This will look good on my resume and shows that I'm serious about what I do."

CSUB geology professor Rob Negrini said both students are outstanding and enthusiastic. He believes their appointments are not only significant personal accomplishments and good examples of the success of the CSUB geology department.

"These kids prove that if you're a good student and willing to work hard, our program offers great opportunities for exciting careers," Negrini said. "It also shows that our department has a good reputation around the nation to open the door for dedicated students."

CONTACT: Becky Zelinski, 661/664-2138,
Or Mike Stepanovich, 661/664-2456,

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