Thursday, February 23, 2017

Alan Kassab: Overcoming challenges to thrive at Cuyamaca College

Alan Kassab
Alan Kassab has seen more than his share of challenges. A father losing his business. His family losing their home to foreclosure. His parents enduring a difficult divorce. But today, Kassab is thriving at Cuyamaca College, where he is president of the Engineering Club and involved with student government. 

Topping it all off, the Valhalla High School graduate last year took part in a prestigious NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars Program at the NASA Aero Institute in Palmdale. 

“It was an awesome experience,” he said. “And it motivated me to continue pursuing my goal of becoming an aerospace engineer.” 

Kassab’s dedication resulted in a $500 Barnes and Noble Scholarship from the Foundation for Grossmont and Cuyamaca Colleges, and he was one of 132 recipients honored during a recent gala at Grossmont College recognizing students’ accomplishments. 

“I’m really thankful,” Kassab said. “Engineering books are really expensive. I wouldn’t be able to afford them had it not been for this scholarship.” 

Kassab is on track to earn an associate degree in engineering in 2018. Ultimately, he’d like to secure either a master’s degree or a Ph.D. His goal: running his own aerospace engineering company.  

He got a taste of the future when taking part in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars Program. The program provides students focusing on STEM studies an authentic NASA experience while encouraging them to complete their associate degree and transfer to a four-year university en route to a NASA-related career. Participants engage in numerous webinars, plan a mission to Mars, work on a team project mentored by NASA engineers, tour NASA facilities, compete in a robotics contest and attend briefings conducted by leaders in their field. 

Kassab has left an impression on more than a few people at Cuyamaca College. 

“Alan is a go-getter and a leader,” said engineering instructor Duncan McGhehee. “He’s pretty involved on campus and I’m sure he’ll be successful in his endeavors.” 

It hasn’t always been easy. Kassab, 22, has struggled in school in the past. He has been at Cuyamaca College since the fall of 2012, but he says he became more determined, and focused in the months leading up to the NASA experience.  

“I’m going to do whatever I need for as long as I need to get me to where I want to be,” said Kassab, who praised the support he has received at Cuyamaca. 

“I really like the environment. Pretty much everyone here is super friendly. The entire staff is here to help you. The instructors are willing to meet with you after class. You just get a sense that people care.”