Reach for the stars

Ryan Kellis at the Center for Sciences in Woodland Hills. Photo: Rebecca Schulman

People can spend their entire lives without discovering what they’re passionate about. Ryan Kellis not only found his, he’s now excelling at a second.

“Music is a passion that I have been pursuing since I was 14. As far as astrophysics, it’s like it was hibernating, and it just perked up slowly in the last 10 years,” Ryan said. “I guess I have two passions. I consider myself very lucky.”

Ryan was accepted into NASA’s National Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) workshop at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena.

Acceptance into the workshop, which takes place from Sept. 25 to Sept. 28, required a

personal essay, a letter of recommendation and other information such as unofficial transcripts.

“He is trying to move forward, trying to get more knowledge about what is going on and move himself forward in aerospace and astronomy,” Chair of the Physics Department Dale Fields said.

Ryan, who graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) with a bachelor’s degree in music in 2001, began nursing his newfound passion by watching video documentary series and online lectures. Ryan then began taking online quizzes.

“I got a telescope, and I started getting into the study of the stars,” Ryan said. “And then I was like, ‘If I am doing this, I might as well start taking courses at Pierce.’”

Ryan began independent studies with Fields, who has become a mentor to Ryan.

“He’s unafraid of asking questions, and when he doesn’t know something he doesn’t have that ego of, ‘Of course, I know what this thing is,’” Fields said. “He is very honest of what he knows and what he does not know.”

Ryan’s wife Emily Kellis, 34, always had confidence about her husband’s intelligence and the effort he put into his work.

“I am extremely proud of him,” Emily said. “Ryan has a lot of integrity. He is passionate about everything. He has a hungry mind.”

Ryan and Emily have been together for 11 years and married for six.

“I met him when I was 23 years old,” Emily said. “He was my waiter. I always tell my single friends, you never know what a person is going to end up doing.”

According to Emily, her husband is a person never satisfied with his current place in life. Ryan always wanted to move forward, and according to her, is a friendly, caring, patient and talented musician with a sense of humor.

“He wants to work for NASA. He wants to pursue both of his passions,” Emily said. “I always tell my family that my husband is wicked smart.”

Ryan said that acceptance into this program will help him gain an insider look into what goes on at JPL, and he hopes to both meet and build relationships with inspiring individuals.

“Some of my expectations are going to be trying to figure out where I would, hypothetically, fit in a place like that,” Ryan said.

He harbors mixed feelings about participating in the program, but Ryan feels excited for this upcoming opportunity.

“I am ecstatic,” Ryan said. “And I am also a little uncertain, but I think those two things go hand in hand, being apprehensive, but also having that buzz of butterflies.”

According to Ryan, professors at Pierce College are more accessible than those at UCSB, and that has helped him be a part of this program.

“I really want to let students know that this program exists,” Ryan said, hoping to encourage others to take an interest in astrophysics.

Ryan hopes to pursue both his passions by eventually working for NASA while also playing music on the weekends.

“Let’s see what happens if I take this to the next level,” Ryan said.