By Jade Kim, Operations Administrator at Base 11

Oh, the smell of rocket fuel in the morning! Something the Base 11 Summer Fellows know all about now that they have completed their fellowships at USC’s Liquid Propulsion Lab.

The rocket engine that the Base 11 Fellows helped build.

During this rigorous 8-week program, students, under the guidance of graduate and undergraduate mentors, tested and launched a unique rocket system using engines developed locally at USC. They participated in ground test fires, procedures development, hands-on work in mechanical and electrical systems, and much more.

“I learned how to use flow equations to properly design rocket engines, as well as acquire real-time data for the Rocket’s Engine Control Unit using Raspberry Pi and Python code,” said Santa Ana College student Xavier Tan.

Sound complicated? That is because it absolutely is. However, the complexities of rocketry did not intimidate this year’s cohort, who welcomed the challenge as a profound learning experience.

“They are motivated — a lot,” said the LPL’s lead engineer and mentor Jan Fessl.

A 3d-printed prototype of an engine part the students designed.

“The big learning curve, especially in the beginning, was the biggest challenge. I got into the program with huge excitement, but zero background about rockets. However, my mentors’ guidance and encouragement led me to learn quickly and keep up with the projects and workload,” said Glendale Community College student Serli Alexandi.

The program concluded with a presentation of their research proposals modeled after professional technical meetings. Students were able to showcase their hard work as well as a prototypes of their ideas, preparing them for successful future interviews with their dream employers.

“I gained valuable connections in the industry as well as hands-on experience in the lab. I now see myself applying to different companies with confidence and a different mindset,” said Sergio Sandoval, a student at Santa Ana College.

Equipped with this invaluable knowledge and experience of working in the Liquid Propulsion Lab, the Base 11 fellows have a very bright path ahead of them. Several have already been accepted into four-year universities, including two who will be continuing their work with the LPL team at USC in the fall.

As for the families of these accomplished scholars, Xavier thoughtfully sums it up: “They are very proud and happy that I am able to get such unique experience working in a sector that I have interest in and am passionate about.”

The Base 11 Summer Fellows and USC mentors posing in the LPL.


Learn more about Base 11’s summer fellowships.