Making an impact on a campus or community can be enough of a challenge, but the reach of West Virginia University December graduate Jackie Grimes extends all the way to Mars.

The 22-year-old from Pittsburgh is earning a dual degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering and has already landed a job with aerospace leader Boeing.

She spent the summer of her sophomore year studying the behavior of earth contaminants in a simulated Martian environment during a 10-week internship at NASA s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Her research, in collaboration with a senior engineer at the lab, was passed on to California Institute of Technology physicists, who will share it with other scientists involved in Mars research and future space travel projects.

Grimes called the NASA internship one of the highlights of her academic experience at WVU , but its only one of many opportunities she has enjoyed.

Her first connection with NASA was earlier in her sophomore year when she joined the Microgravity Research Team, a team of engineering students sponsored by the NASA West Virginia Space Grant Consortium (WVSGC) and mentored by WVU faculty John Kuhlman and Donald Gray. During the yearlong program, Grimes and her teammates researched, assembled and tested experiments that were later flown on NASA s famousWeightless Wonder,a C-9 aircraft that allows student researchers to conduct experiments in a microgravity, space-like environment at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Because of her excellent work and leadership capabilities, Grimes was selected to continue her work the next year. It was a rewarding experience on many levels.

I dont know where I would be if I hadnt gotten involved with the NASA Space Grant Consortium office my sophomore year,she said.There was a lot of team work. You learn a lot about yourself when you work with so many different people.

Her second NASA stint also ended in a return engagement. After her junior year, Grimes was invited to work at Caltech during the first part of the summer. She spent the second half of the summer in Mexico, working in an internship program arranged through mechanical and aerospace engineering professor Victor Mucino. At a Mexican company called CIDEC , Grimes worked on an industrial project that tests the life of telecommunications cables.

While in Mexico, she lived with a native family. Her minor is Spanish, so her stay helped enhance her verbal skills and vocabulary. She also gained further insight into the customs and conditions of another culture and country.

Your whole perspective changes,she said.That experience in itself just made me grateful for my education and understand that there are so many things I can do with an engineering degree to help other people.

Her final project at WVU connected to a $5,000 fellowship awarded through the NASA WVSGC is helping to develop a drop tower for WVU . The tower will help researchers simulate the weightless environment of space. Grimes, fellow mechanical and aerospace engineering student Emily Calandrelli, a junior from Morgantown, and Kuhlman are trying to make the tower a reality.

As part of their research, Grimes and Calandrelli visited the drop tower at Purdue University and met with Steven Collicott, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics.

We talked to him about what kind of materials hell be using and what kind of experiments he wants to run, where he got his funding from, if hes going to let other people use it as well, what kind of technology hes going to use and how much its going to cost,Grimes said.

Even though Grimes will soon leave Morgantown, shes hoping to come back and help realize the vision of getting a tower operational at WVU even if that means driving from Philadelphia, where a job awaits with Boeing. She worked there during an educational leave of absence this year and was offered the job after her return to school. She credits the job offer to her experiences at WVU and with the NASA WVSGC .

Ive had so many opportunities through them, and Im really grateful for that,she said.

As for advice to other students pursuing their dreams, she said,Its really important to get involved and never give up. Just believe in yourself and stay focused. It will pay off in the end.