FCC Student Amarisa Gonzalez Starts Her Countdown to Space


Photo by: Aman Bhavsar

Amarisa Gonzalez with her certificate for completing the poSSUM program at the top of her class at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne March 24, 2023

At just 21 years old, Fresno City College student Amarisa Gonzalez was chosen for NASA’s partner program poSSUM, Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere.

She was one out of 10 students chosen internationally for the program and the only Latina, biology major, and community college student to be selected.

The program took place March 20 – 25 at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne. She learned about mesosphere research, astronaut training, and ended up receiving her piloting certification.

Her favorite part of the program was piloting a plane and going from 6.5Gs to -0.5Gs, (Gravitational Forces) which means she flew the plane from 845 pounds of force on her body to nothing in just a couple of seconds during her hour and a half of flight time.

However, her dream is to continue working in the field of science.

“My dream is to be a scientist, whether that’s here in the lab or up in the International Space Station, either way, I really want to make a change in the world,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez graduated at the top of the advanced academy class of the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS) program, while also completing three missions for NASA.

The first was a 15-page research paper on Lunar In-Situ Resource Utilization, which is to accumulate and transform the local resources from the planet into products that can lower mission mass, risk of human exploration, cost, and has the possibility of creating Earth-independence.

The next assignment was to develop a mission to the moon where she and her group would look for resources like finding water and how to grow plants. For the third mission, employees were split into groups and her group had the category of natural disasters.

Gonzalez was assigned to hurricanes which came as a challenge to her since California is not a hurricane state, but she was able to develop a drone that can help rescue people during a hurricane, especially those without resources.

For example, according to Gonzalez, most people who die in hurricanes get stuck due to being disabled, and she believes this drone can help.

Her proudest moment so far was during the Central Valley Honors Symposium that took place on April 30, 2022, at Reedley College. Gonzalez presented her research project where she researched a treatment for sickle cell disease by using gene therapy so that a patient doesn’t have to get treatment or take medication.

For this event only honors students are able to register and Gonzalez was the only student from FCC while other students were from Reedley Community College, Clovis Community College, and Madera Community College.

Aside from her time working with NASA, Gonzalez has a busy schedule. A typical day starts when she gets to school in the morning. After her classes, she spends time working in the tutorial center helping students in biology and chemistry.

FCC nursing student Cameron Lima receives tutoring assistance from her for his chemistry class.

“She’s very encouraging and whenever you have a question she’s always willing to help with a smile,” Lima said.

Gonzalez is the first in her family to go into the STEM field. She knows that it can be hard to find someone to look up to, and realizes that it’s important to open a door and be a role model for young Latinas, as she did not have any growing up.

She spent some time studying abroad in Panama and Costa Rica, where one of her main goals was to let the young girls know that there are many opportunities for them to leave and study abroad in the United States, to become either scientists or doctors.

“I love my community and I love to show them that you can chase your dreams and continue to dream big,” Gonzalez said.

Given that Gonzalez is a young community college student, she receives a lot of support for her accomplishments from her family, friends, and fellow college students.

Rodney Olsen, a professor in the Math, Science and Engineering Division at FCC has been helping Gonzalez through her STEM journey.

“I am proud to have a student who continually challenges herself and pushes beyond her limits,” Olsen said.

Support is everything to Gonzalez; especially after going through a hard time with her epilepsy.

When Gonzalez was in junior high she was diagnosed with epileptic seizures. It got to the point where she had to go on hospital home studies constantly. For a while, she wasn’t able to walk or speak and she couldn’t remember anything.

Due to her epilepsy, some classes were challenging but she was able to pull through with flying colors.

Gonzalez calls her epilepsy a blessing in disguise because it shaped her into the person she is today. “I’m glad it happened to me,” Gonzalez said.

She also developed dyslexia, which is when you get letters and words mixed up, and alexia, where in her head she was saying everything right but when it came out, it was wrong.

What helped her get through everything was the support from her parents, Vincent Gonzalez and Cristina Cervantes.

“ …Everything that you’ve [Gonzalez] done up to this point, are you really going to let that one class get in the way of chasing your dreams,” Cervantes said.

Chasing dreams has always been a cornerstone for Gonzalez’s life, a lesson given by her father that encouraged her to look towards her goals first.

Gonzalez was recently selected by Dean Shirley McManus for the Dean’s Medallion of the Math, Science, and Engineering Division at FCC.

The now 22-year-old will be attending UC Berkeley in the fall of 2023 on a full-ride transfer scholarship where she will be majoring in molecular and cell biology.