NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars: Increase STEM Applications

NCAS applicant enrollment
400 students
STEM Community College Program
Houston, TX
Customer Since:


Oklahoma State University’s (OSU) NASA STEM Pathway Activities Consortium for Education (NSPACE) collaborates with NASA Johnson Space Center, Agency Mission Directorates, and NASA Headquarters to provide competitive and innovative STEM educational opportunities to K-16 students and educators. One of those opportunities is NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS).

NCAS’s goal is to encourage community college students to complete a 2-year degree in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) and then transfer to a 4-year university or enter the STEM workforce. To achieve their strategic goal, NCAS invites eligible community college students to apply to participate in a 5-week online course. In the course, they learn about the past, present, and future of NASA. Additionally, students who complete the course with a qualifying grade may be invited to an all-expense trip to a NASA center to compete in an engineering design challenge.

Communication challenges

Each year, NCAS has two application cycles. The NCAS team wanted to increase the percentage of students completing the online application and the percentage of students passing the online course. Historically, many of the emails they sent to students either bounced, remained unread or received no response back.

Staff knew they needed a way to reach this population with timely and personalized nudges that would prompt them to take the right action at the right time. Furthermore, they needed a way to remind students about upcoming deadlines that could easily have been forgotten. Also, they encourage students to reach out and ask for help when they needed it. Community college students tend to lead a busy life, and what they need are nudges that encourage them to persist.


In the summer of 2017, NCAS started using Signal Vine to reach their activity goals of increasing application and course completion rates, increasing student engagement, and expanding the reach of their program across community college campuses. Staff used student data to send out messages to hundreds of students while keeping the messages personal to each student. NCAS realized in order to make their messages as effective as possible, they needed to make their messages easy, attractive, social, and timely (EAST framework of nudge theory).


When students have a lot going on, they don’t tend to set reminders for themselves. NASA sent texts that gave students clear directions on what action items they needed to complete on either their application or their coursework.

  • Hi, I’m [Counselor] from NASA. I saw your NCAS application is not complete yet. Do you have questions? Yes/No or cancel to stop messages.


Using personalization and a friendly tone is an integral part of how a student will receive the message. By using the sender’s first name, the student’s first name, and relevant information that applies to each student, the message will go a long way in building trust and engagement.

  • Hi [first name], I’m [Counselor]  from NASA. Congrats on finishing your application. You will know late Oct. if you’re in. Any more questions?


Socially targeted messages nudge students to become advocates. Students want to feel included and have a sense of community wherever they are and are likely to consider their peers’ attitudes and behaviors when making a decision.


Sending reminders to students at the right time is critical. If they have deadlines coming up, pre-schedule reminders in timely increments, and once students have completed tasks, they’ll automatically be opted out of receiving the reminders.

  • Hello again, did you know that you are missing some sections to your NCAS application? It’s due June 4th. Do you have any questions? Yes/No.


Before implementing Signal Vine, application completion rates stood at 60% completion. Since implementing the texting initiative, NCAS has seen application rates at 67%, 69%, and 68% over the past three cycles. This significant increase in application completion rates has made a huge impact on the program’s efficiency. The NCAS team saves time using Signal Vine’s Blended Messaging feature. Students have become an integral part of their student recruitment, and they have been able to collect more data on their students throughout the application and course completion process.

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