Computer science graduate shoots for the stars through NASA internship
Tristan Palanca always had his sights set on the stars.
Stemming from a childhood desire to become a pilot or astronaut, Palanca developed an early interest in aeronautics. This led him to the Computer Science Program at the University of Guam as a pathway to achieve his goal.
In the summer of his graduating year, Palanca’s mission reached a milestone when he spent his time conducting research at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. He was one of 250 interns selected from an applicant pool of about 10,000 students.
Under the center’s Advanced Materials & Processing Branch, Palanca assisted in creating a 3D printing apparatus for use with carbon nanomaterials, the work around which involved mechanical, electrical, and firmware design.
Having become familiar with research through his previous fellowship with the Hawai’i Space Grant Consortium, Palanca said his experience at Langley convinced him that anything is possible with determination and the right mindset.
“This opportunity gave me the exposure into the research and development environment that I needed to understand exactly where I wanted to go with my career,” he said. “I hope my experience convinces other UOG students that they should not be afraid to dream bigger and shoot for more ambitious opportunities.”
Palanca graduated from UOG in 2018 with his bachelor’s in computer science. Then, in the spring of 2020, he graduated with a master’s in computer science from the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa on a full scholarship provided by the East-West Center.
He now works in the tech industry in the San Francisco Bay Area with a focus on data science and product analytics, where he said he feels he has produced impactful, fulfilling work and has been able to draw on his roots in scientific research gained from UOG and the Space Grant Program.
“I would be remiss if I didn't give credit to UOG, and particularly the Space Grant program, for setting me on the trajectory that has ultimately allowed me to accomplish what I have,” said Palanca. “With the guidance of Dr. Romina King, I felt motivated to pursue what would otherwise seem like daunting and intimidating opportunities, only to realize they were well within my reach the entire time.”
Launched last year at the University of Guam, the NASA Guam Space Grant program brings NASA fellowship opportunities to graduate and undergraduate students in STEM fields. The program is part of the Hawai’i Space Grant Consortium, which participates in the National Space Grant College & Fellowship Project.