By Vanessa Rincon
International Education Week 2019 Edition
As a kid growing up in the small town of Muskogee, Okla., I believed there were only two career options at NASA: be an astronaut or a rocket scientist. Neither of which an Okie from Muskogee would fit that mold, so I thought. But I was mistaken. Because here I am, a NASA intern and soon to be a full time employee.
NASA has allowed me to have fantastic mentors, support the future Artemis – to the moon — mission, and given me the opportunity to network with peers from all walks of life. Most importantly, NASA has given me the privilege to engage the community and inspire minority youth about STEM. I truly felt as if I was living the dream.
I am a recent graduate of Langston University, a Historically Black College in Oklahoma with bachelors in accounting and an associate’s in financial planning. Because of Langston University’s partnership with NASA, I made history in 2017 being the first student from Langston School of Business to receive an internship from NASA. During my tenure at Johnson Space Center in Houston, I have been able to complete five internship tours and work on a multitude of different projects. My projects have included everything from working with procurement (buying stuff) to now public engagement (taking the message to the community).
During my first internship, I worked in JSC’s Gilruth fitness center as a business management intern. For my second, I worked in the Chief Information Office (CIO) as the first ever business integrator helping support the CIO and Chief Financial Office. On my third, I worked in the Office of STEM Engagement working with the Houston Independent School District (HISD) working with underrepresented students and cultivating a stronger relationship between NASA and HISD. For my fourth, I had the honor to help coordinate special events for the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo lunar landing. I got to engage with millions of people from all over the world as I helped with our special events, promotions and, also, JSC internal celebrations. I was able to network with every organization and many public figures such as NASA legend Apollo 11 flight director Gene Kranz, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee and many others.
Presently, I’m an External Relations Office (ERO) intern, still in the office of STEM Engagement, continuing working with HISD to maintain and sustain the partnership our team built. The partnership focuses on innovative educational methods and uses best practices that promote the advancement of knowledge and skills toward STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers, with a goal to help HISD increase the academic achievement rates in STEM. Our hope is to increase industry, university, and community partnerships which will support and enhance the aerospace themes in HISD.
I never imagined myself working in a STEM career field, but I understand the importance and need for STEM engagement, especially with students in underserved communities. I am a firm believer that what happens outside the gates of NASA reflects what goes on inside NASA. By engaging with the public, we can show people all the amazing things we have accomplished at NASA and will continue to do now and in the future — like returning to the Moon in 2024.
My mission at HISD was to show students, especially students of color, that it’s possible to work at NASA and aerospace industries by offering them experiences and opportunities. One of the challenges I faced was finding different ways to relate STEM that would resonate with the students in terms they could understand. I met this challenge through multiple STEM days, including a virtual reality show of the International Space Station and by including other NASA interns, subject matter experts, and former astronauts.
Even though I’m not a rocket scientist or an astronaut, NASA has allowed an Okie from Muskogee to engage, connect, and inspire youth and to gain aerospace experience by helping students find passion in STEM. I want future generations to know no matter what your background you have the ability to do amazing work for one of the most exciting organizations…NASA.
For me “living the dream” is not working at NASA, but helping improve the world one student at a time.
Are you interested in STEM engagement? Consider applying to a NASA internship! You can find Summer 2020 intern projects at intern.nasa.gov. The Summer 2020 application deadline is March 8, 2020. Start your intern journey today! #NASAinterns