Manhattan College Student Lands Internship at NASA

For Cesar Tapia, ’08, ‘17, the sky isn’t the limit, outer space is. The Manhattan College alum recently landed a prestigious internship with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, otherwise known as NASA, and has since travelled down to the John F. Kennedy Space Center, located in Cape Canaveral, Fla., to begin his work.

As an undergraduate at Manhattan College, Tapia pursued a degree in electrical engineering, and then later returned to complete his master’s degree in solar technology.

“I actually just finished my master’s thesis research, paper and defense last semester,” Tapia said.

The complex and specialized nature of Tapia’s thesis topic is difficult for someone without an engineering background to understand  — and even then, one would probably have to be focused in electrical engineering to fully grasp what he has written about.

“He had performed [an] advanced research study related to photovoltaic (PV) energy conversion systems,” Mahmoud Amin, Ph.D., said. Amin works as an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Manhattan College, and he served as Tapia’s major advisor while Tapia worked on his thesis.

“He had involved a comparative review study to determine whether the configuration of a photovoltaic array helps mitigate partial shading,” Amin said. “A 4×4 array was developed, simulated and tested with series, series-parallel and total cross tied configurations.”

After all testing had been completed, Tapia compiled all of the results into his thesis paper, and ultimately “the energy efficiency across [the] configurations” was compared, Amin said.

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Cesar Tapia lands internship at NASA.  Cesar Tapia/ Courtesy

The dedication and hard work Tapia put into the success of his master’s thesis certainly contributed to him receiving an internship offer from NASA, but he also credits his time working at Manhattan College’s ITS department.

“I am actually pursuing a career in cyber security,” he said. “While pursuing my master’s, I also was working for ITS at Manhattan College. This experience within IT for a little over two years coupled with my engineering degree is what I feel gave me the edge in getting the NASA internship.”

Richard Musal, associate director of client services and operations at Manhattan College’s ITS department, has been able to get to know Tapia throughout the years. He also believes it was Tapia’s experience at the ITS department that pushed him above and beyond his competitors for the position.

“He has a great problem solving background from his work with ITS,” he said.

While Manhattan College’s ITS department left Tapia with invaluable experience, Tapia also left his own mark on the department.

“Cesar was reliable and a problem solver. He helped our team develop policies, procedures and systems to improve how our service desk runs,” Musal said. “He definitely left his ITS office better than when he found it. He helped lay the foundations for the next steps that we are taking for continual service improvement.”

Going above and beyond what is asked of him and his problem solving ability seem to be consistent parts of who Tapia is as a person.

“Cesar is someone who doesn’t just try to look at a problem in one way. He always goes beyond what I ask him to do,” Amin said. “He has successfully demonstrated leadership abilities as he took charge counseling new and prospective students at the undergraduate levels. His advice has been a great help to these students, many of whom have taken time to share their comments with me regarding his pleasant and encouraging attitude.”

Now that his time at NASA has begun, Tapia is hard at work at the reputable Kennedy Space Station.

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John F. Kennedy Space Center, located in Cape Canaveral, Fla., to begin his work.

“I will provide assistance with testing cyber security software and with development of IT security capabilities, used to protect the next launch control system at the KSC,” he said.

Tapia’s internship responsibilities may be tailored to his ITS experience at Manhattan College, but ultimately, he would be open to a job that utilizes either his electrical engineering background or his ITS knowledge.

“My dream job would be to work either for a power utility that is focusing on renewable energy production projects or cyber security for federal agencies such as NASA, the NSA, the CIA or the FBI,” he said.

Tapia can’t stress about the future too much, as his career is already launching at the KSC with NASA.

“The Kennedy Space Center is a place you go to as a kid and where your parents encourage you to reach for the stars,” Tapia said. “You’re never prepared for good news like this. After reality sets in all you can do is feel blessed and appreciative for such an opportunity.”