From Air and Space to L’SPACE – How I Came to NASA

woman in front of signs, flags
Daleen Torres arrives at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in June 2019. Photo Courtesy Daleen Torres

My name is Daleen M. Torres and I study Mechanical Engineering at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus. NASA has always been one of those places where I never thought I would work. I originally wanted to work in the biomedical industry, but when I visited the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, a tiny spark lit up in me. My best friend who was with me at the time could tell that I was all starry-eyed and amazed when I saw the spacecraft and airplanes. This was where my initial interest for aerospace came.

In my Freshman year, I quickly sought out opportunities in aerospace-related internships and projects. As a volunteer in the Aerodesign Team, a group dedicated to designing and manufacturing radio controlled airplanes; I was able to learn more about aerospace and the importance of teamwork. However, I still wanted to explore the space aspect of the aerospace industry. After participating in the Aerodesign competition in California, it was difficult to keep up with the emails sent to my university email. I had to catch up with my classes I had missed out on. When I saw that an employee from NASA was requesting resumes from students via email, I got excited. Unfortunately, it was already too late to send out my resume. The deadline had passed. Regardless of that, I still sent out the resume. I did not get the opportunity to go to NASA at that time.

In my Sophomore year, after a long day at my university, I saw this flyer that talked about this cool space program called Lucy Pipeline Accelerator and Competency Enabler (L’SPACE Academy). It’s a 12-week NASA online program where scientists and engineers teach undergrad students mission procedures that are later used to solve a mission-related design challenge. After being accepted in the program, I was assigned to a team which I led as the project manager. The program motivated me to reach out to NASA again by applying for a summer internship. About three days later, the same NASA employee I had sent my resume to in my freshman year called to set up an interview. It was 8:00 pm and I was sitting by the tv, watching Netflix. I almost dropped my phone when he said he was from NASA.

I am now a NASA Intern at the Goddard Space Flight Center. It has been a dream come true. One of my favorite aspects of Goddard hat I get to see on a daily basis is diversity and inclusion. Most of the people in the team that I work in are female scientists. It’s amazing to see how much the female presence in the scientific community has increased over the years. Some decades ago, this did not happen. Everywhere I go, I get to see people from different cultures. I have met people from France, Spain, Jamaica, Korea, Africa, and much more.

The project that I am working on is called Light Field Microscopy for Future Space Missions. It will serve to make geochronology (the science for age dating of rocks, minerals, stones, and fossils) experiments of different planets within the Solar System. This would permit geologists to improve current knowledge of the planets. As an engineering student, I will help develop the K-Ar (Potassium to Argon) Laser Experiment (KArLE). It measures the age of rocks by obtaining the amount of atoms of Potassium and Argon in the sample. In other words, KArLE uses K-Ar dating. Optimizing the measurements of the volume of pits in samples by researching different flight-proven methods would enable KArLE to be more precise.

So far, everyday at NASA has been unique. After passing through the security entrances, I get to an office, read emails and plan out my day. I set up meetings if necessary and jot down any activity or presentation at GSFC that catches my eye. Then, I head down to a lab where I get to work with this cool Lytro camera that uses light field technology to map out the depth values in a picture. I also get to work with two different microscopes. Occasionally, I participate in different activities available for interns and employees.

Supreet Kaur: From NCAS Student to NASA Intern (and more!) at NASA’s Ames Research Center

I am not a traditional high school to college student. My family and I came to this country as refugees. As immigrants we focused more on the day-to-day survival, so a higher education was never in the works for me, nor was it ever encouraged. The predetermined plan was that I would graduate high school and follow the traditional path of an arranged marriage.

I am the first woman in my family to choose an education and a career in STEM over what was expected of me. Deciding who I wanted to be was the easy part, the execution and risk it involved was another story. My education and independence had a very rocky beginning; I didn’t have any support or the faintest idea of what direction to go in. So I spent several years taking classes at a local community college to figure out exactly what I wanted to do. I explored various subjects; microbiology, anatomy, women in art history, political science, etc., learned what the path to higher education looks like, and built the self-confidence I needed to thrive on my own. During that journey I met many people who became my allies, mentors, and support system. They encouraged me to dream big, and so I applied to the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholar (NCAS) program. And that is how I first came to NASA’s Ames Research Center (ARC).

As part of NASA’s Women’s History Month – Past, Present, and Future feature, Supreet Kaur is highlighted as part of NASA’s commitment to STEM education and career awareness.

I first came to NASA ARC as a NASA Community College Aerospace Scholar. It was a very concentrated experience – the tours, lectures from esteemed researchers, the rover competition – I’d never experienced anything like that before. And I was hooked! I knew from that experience I wanted to return. I wanted to be a part of the NASA culture, and to be around some of the most brilliant individuals who are working passionately towards something they believe in.

When I came to NASA ARC as a Systems Engineer summer intern, for the Airspace Technology Demonstration 2 (ATD-2) project, I had no prior knowledge of Air Traffic Management (ATM). So you can imagine my surprise when in the first week of my internship I had the opportunity to participate as a pseudo ramp controller in a Human-in-the-loop (HITL) simulation alongside professional pilots and air traffic controllers to test scenarios using the Integrated Arrival, Departure, and Surface (IADS) software. I was diving into the deep end of the pool without any floaties. Although I was nervous, every single person in that simulation had so much faith that I would get the hang of it, I began to believe it too. With every passing day my education kicked in and I felt my self-confidence rise. By the end of the simulation I not only understood the role NASA plays in the ATD-2 project, but it allowed me to the visualize the problem we are trying to solve.

Supreet Kaur is currently a Spring 2019 Systems Engineer intern, for the Airspace Technology Demonstration 2 (ATD-2) project at NASA ARC.

An important lesson I’ve learned from my mentor, Andrew Ging, is how to stay calm and be agile in the midst of the unknown. Unforeseen things can happen in experimental settings; systems crash or behave unexpectedly, sometimes plan A and B are no longer feasible, or we find ourselves in uncharted territory. I’ve learned to approach problems with a holistic approach by designing strategic and tactical plans. Thus, I’ve learned to better prioritize which problem needs to be addressed first, determine if the problem needs a short term or a long term solution, think about the outcome of the solutions I implement. When you dissect a problem through abstract thinking, and start defining all the unknowns, the problem itself becomes less intimidating making it easier to stay calm.

Professionally, this internship has sharpened my systems thinking skills. I know I can walk into any situation, find the problem, and propose several solutions to resolve that problem. I am no longer intimidated by the things I do not know, instead I’ve learned to use my inexperience as an asset – sometimes a problem needs an outside perspective, without preconceived ideas. Personally, being a NASA intern and returning as a NCAS Mentor has given me insight about what I want out of a career. I now understand the value of work-life balance and being part of a broader community.

Through outreach I am able to connect and relate to community college students who are finding their own path in the STEM industry. This internship allows me to give back to the community which has fostered my personal and professional growth.

Supreet Kaur will end her internship at NASA ARC this Spring 2019 but will join the Brooke Owens Fellowship for Summer 2019.

About the Author
Supreet Kaur is a current student at San Jose State University, earning a Bachelor of Science in Industrial & Systems Engineering. Supreet recently became one of the recipients for the Brooke Owens Fellowship Class of 2019. The fellowship is designed to connect women in aerospace with a purpose driven summer internship, a leadership summit, and mentorship with pioneers in the industry. This summer, she will be working at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) as a research intern in the Aerospace Security Project.

To learn more about NASA Internships, please visit intern.nasa.gov. Start your journey today! #NASAinterns