Cy Creek Students Join NASA’s HAS Program


LEFT: Amani Ansari pictured in NASA gear outside of Cypress Creek High School. (Photo by: Bri Jimenez) RIGHT: Lauren Breech posing in front of Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. (Photo by: Lauren Breech)

Two Cypress Creek High School juniors, Amani Ansari and Lauren Breech, were both admitted into NASA’s Texas High School Aerospace Scholars’ (HAS) program this past November. NASA’s HAS program is one of unmatched prestige and prominence, bringing high school juniors from all across Texas one step closer to reaching the stars.

Juniors enrolled in NASA’s HAS program, attend a year-long series of online courses with curriculum focused on enriching the students’ knowledge on STEM courses, such as physics and trigonometry, all whilst being counseled by established NASA employees. By the end of the course, the scholars with the highest scores will receive the opportunity to join NASA scientists during an in-person summer experience as they plan a mission to Mars.

Most students rarely forgo the opportunity presented within NASA’s HAS program, despite how unexpected it may be. For Ansari, the application process was a series of surprises, one after another.

“I saw that NASA poster on the wall, and I went, ‘Wow, that’s very interesting,'” Ansari said. “I came home and I googled it, and that was the day that applications were due. I went, ‘Oh, god,’ and then I applied, right away…I was just doing it as I saw it.”

Breech’s journey with NASA’s HAS program carried greater anticipation, as she was introduced to the program her freshman year through upperclassmen Sarah Braun, who recognized Breech’s interest in space. Though Breech’s journey to the program was longer, one thing remained consistent with Ansari’s path to acceptance: complete and utter bewilderment coupled with a sense of unparalleled elation and confidence.

When asked to describe her feelings after being admitted, Breech said, “It was actually a very good feeling. Obviously, I immediately sent the email to my parents like, ‘Look at me!’ It was a reassuring thing for me. It was actually ‘I can do this.’ It wasn’t just a dream. Dream’s actually becoming a reality.”

Ansari and Breech’s feelings regarding their affiliation with NASA’s HAS program was not their most pressing commonality, but it was rather their reason for garnering interest in the program. Both girls took interest in certain niche science courses offered at Cypress Creek, such as Astronomy and Earth & Space, but their love for space and need to venture into the unknown could only develop so much without enrichment opportunities beyond school walls.

NASA’s HAS program has provided just what Breech and Ansari need to continue building on the foundation forged at Cypress Creek. “There is a lot that you get out of the program that you can’t get anywhere else,” Breech said. “It gets my foot in the door and I am in touch with people at NASA now so I can get internship opportunities and…I get to work with people that are doing what I want to do, like, I can get all sort of advise, I mean I am sitting here at my computer and I can email people that work in NASA and talk to them.”

Although there are a multitude of benefits Ansari and Breech can reap during their time in NASA’s HAS program, for Ansari, it means delving into the realm of all things science, with a dash of other things that intrigue her. Ansari said, “For fields of study, there’s quite a few. I’m a big fan of, like, global business and international relations, but on the STEM side, computer science and business, bioinformatics, astrophysics, so all over the place, but within science…I think [NASA’s HAS program] will help me make decisions and figure out what I like.”

Breech’s aspirations take on a similar intonation, as she plans to pursue math in the future with an emphasis on astrophysics. With a lineage of STEM-based family members, Breech has always been exposed to the sciences, but her motivations reach deeper into a broader picture.

“I am huge feminist and advocate for women in STEM,” Breech said. Breech cited acclaimed African-American mathematician Katherine Johnson, as one of Breech’s most influential figures from her youth. Breech went on to say, “In elementary school, we learned about Katherine Johnson, so that was big factor for me–always a huge inspiration–because she [was] doing what I want to do but she did it at a time where, you know, women were not doing it and… so she has always been an inspiration.”

Ansari shared the sentiment as she described her love for not only the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center and the memories she made there as a young girl with her family, but also her admiration of the work of many NASA scientists, one of whom was Swati Mohan, an esteemed Indian-American aerospace engineer.

“We watched the Mars Rover landing back in February, like, as a family… the lady who controlled the landing, her name was Swati Mohan, and she was Indian-American, and I was, like, ‘Wow! That could be me one day.’” Ansari said. “[I] really saw myself there. And, it was just, like, an epiphany, and I was like, ‘I want to get there, how do I get there?’ and that’s what this program is for me.”

With both students crediting pioneering female figures Swati Mohan and Katherine Johnson, respectively, as some of their personal role models, similar accomplishments are to be anticipated from Ansari and Breech in the future, grazing the stars and beyond.

“Texas High School Aerospace Scholars is a way to, like, continue that exploration, and, like, bring that curiosity I have with, like, space technology, the international space station, with me as I grow up and move on in my life,” says Ansari. “I think it’s just a way to continue that love for the unknown because I don’t think that’s something I’m going to grow out of.”

Amani Ansari pictured in NASA gear outside of Cypress Creek High School. (Photo by: Bri Jimenez)
Lauren Breech posing in front of Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. (Photo by: Lauren Breech)