SANTA ANA, Calif. With nearly LDS 300 youth, along with about 30 to 40 friends, Santa Ana California South Stake Young Men President Trent Boman was elated to have NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory wrap up the Hispanic stake's four-day youth conference on a "high" with its interplanetary space exploration program presentation.
"You are in for an exciting adventure," he told the 14- to 18-year-olds as the day began June 26.
"Cool," seemed to be the operative word as the youth gathered around a mock-up of the Mars Exploration Rover in the stake center cultural hall.
"Really cool scientific stuff I never learned in school," said Zorayda Tapia of the Anaheim 11th Ward.
"It's exciting to find out about this cool space stuff," said Bryant Avalos, also of Anaheim 11th Ward.
"This is a historic moment," said Rolando Cordova, second counselor in the stake presidency, as he welcomed the youth. He thanked the six Jet Propulsion Laboratory volunteers saying, "We are grateful to the JPL staff for giving their time to our youth to help us open their minds to gain a better attitude about education. It isn't easy because there are so many distractions in the world."
Leaving the world behind, the young people launched into the JPL program "Mars Exploration" with a video narrated by Jodie Foster and titled "Welcome to Outer Space."
Introducing the five other JPL volunteers was high councilor Luis Velasco, a graduate of Brigham Young University who joined the JPL team less than a year ago as a mechanical engineer working as a support engineer on a variety of projects. "It has been a good way to become acquainted with all the projects JPL is involved in," he said.
Brother Velasco learned of JPL's Hispanic club "Amigos Unidos" (United Friends). Hispanic employees in this group work together to promote interest in technical careers within Hispanic communities throughout Southern California. Brother Velasco's calling on the high council includes working with Gilberto Arteaga, Hispanic director of the Church's Southern California Public Affairs Council. Brother Velasco suggested that the JPL group present their program at the youth conference and Brother Arteaga advertised it in the community. As each of the young scientists was introduced, his or her college degrees were enumerated and it was noted that most in the group had or were working on advanced degrees.
After the opening video, the youth were divided into three groups to go to three areas, each staffed by two JPL professionals: MER (Mars Exploration Rover) video room with videos of projects that JPL is currently working on as well as some past projects; MER hands-on display room with the mock-up of the Mars Exploration Rover and a video of the history of the Rover from its conception through the building, testing and landing on Mars, along with problems and how they were solved; MER panel room where the youth were encouraged to ask "anything and everything they ever wanted to know about space," and, of course, the JPL employees got questions about aliens.
The employees said they felt rewarded for spending a Saturday in Santa Ana.
"I just got back from vacation yesterday," said Ruth Monarrez, a cognizant development engineer working on the Tropospheric Emission Spectrometer. "I almost didn't feel like coming, but I'm really glad I came. The kids have been a lot of fun and the leaders are wonderful."
She explained that she knew as a small child that she wanted to work for NASA. "I didn't know what kinds of jobs I could do, I just knew I needed to work hard in school and take math and science classes, and look where I am now," she said with a smile. "I love my job."
Amin David, president of Los Amigos of Orange County, an influential Hispanic businessmen's group, attended the conference in the afternoon and said he was impressed by what he saw. "JPL presented an excellent program. But what I'm most impressed with is how well-behaved a group of youth this large can be. It is a compliment to the parents and the Church."
Zeke Hernandez, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, also attended and was moved by the clean-cut group of youth. He said, "These young people are the leaders of tomorrow."
The other JPL volunteers were Carolina Maldonado, David Henriquez, Eric Aguilar and Daniel Cortez. All were enthusiastic about the day they had spent with the young people of Santa Ana and spoke of their love for helping others. To thank them, the stake leaders presented each with a crystal clock engraved with the phrase "Friends to All Nations From The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," and the Tabernacle Choir CD "Friends to All Nations."
Brother Arteaga coordinated with three Hispanic newspapers, Excelsior, Rumores and Hoy covering the event. The theme of the conference was "Standard of Liberty," taken from Alma 46:20.