Hello world, my name is Dayana Contreras and I’m an AFRC intern. I started my first internship in the fall 2019. I was very surprised when I got the offer, I couldn’t believe it; I didn’t even drop my fall classes until the day after orientation. I kept thinking I would get to the gate and they were going to tell me it was all a big mistake. My dream of working for NASA had finally come true. Having the privilege to be able to come in the center and see the amazing things they did was a reward itself. I felt so small walking past all the aircraft, SOFIA is one of the most amazing airplanes I have ever witnessed.
My first project was Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design to Lower Drag (PRADTL-3c). I helped with the mass property testing, such as center of gravity and moment of inertia. I was also in charge of data collection and analysis using the mathematical models I created. I got the opportunity to do a lot of hands on testing. This was a great internship, and I got to bond with my teammates as well as my mentor, Oscar Murillo. I felt I got to know many people around the center and got to learn the dynamics as well. This center has a great small-town feel – everyone smiles and says hi to you and they are so willing to help and want to see you succeed, it is so welcoming.
My second internship was in the spring 2020. My project was working with National Aeronautics and Space Administration Design and Analysis of Rotorcraft (NDARC). Being the first intern assigned to this project gave me an insight on what this center is about – research. I learned to be patient and to work alone. It really gave the phrase slowly but surely a true meaning. I was very lucky to have had a great mentor, Jason Lechniak, by my side helping me get through the issues I encountered. I learned so much from him I am very grateful for the opportunity and trust he placed in me.
My advice for future interns is to stay focused but have fun at the same time. Enjoy the internship and everything the center has to offer. Take classes, go to meetings and lunch and learn sessions. Attend talks and events. Get to know people; a smile can lead to a conversation. This center has so many things to offer and this is the opportunity of a lifetime, make the best of it! Remember you are not expected to know everything, but you are expected to do your best to try to figure out a solution to your problem.
By Vanessa Rincon International Education Week 2019 Edition
I have made many memories throughout my time as an intern at NASA, and these will stick with me forever. These have mainly come through the new friendships that I have developed here at NASA Ames. My mentor is truly my biggest inspiration at NASA. His adherence to continue working through difficulties is a brilliant quality, and although he is often inundated in work, he never even considered not helping me in any moment I had a question or required his assistance with something. This has inspired me to be accommodating to others and under no circumstances should I not have time to aid others in need.
Aspiring to become a professional Australian football player, I dedicated my life to performing the sport at the highest level I possibly could in Perth, Australia. I suffered an injury in 2016 whilst playing that fractured my skull and brought me a serious concussion, changing the way I thought about how I wanted to live my life. At this point, I enrolled in a Masters of Professional Aerospace Engineering in Sydney, Australia, and left my family and athletic aspirations.
Currently, my role on my project is to conduct an analysis on the performance of a newly developed high-speed CMOS camera sensor purposed for Pressure-Sensitive Paint applications, otherwise known as an optical wind tunnel technique through which an image is captured and can be processed to harness the pressure distribution over the entire surface of the aircraft or spacecraft model captured by the frame. I test this camera in pressure calibration cells to identify its light-capturing capabilities at different partial pressures of oxygen. I also am involved in a wind tunnel test on the Common Research Model and structural tests on the Germanium windows in the Unitary wind tunnel that are used for infrared wave transfer.
This internship has truly changed my life, and it has taught me that there is no impossible. It showed me that if you dedicate yourself to something, you can achieve the world, and that nothing is out of reach. Always believe in yourself and the others around you, and the rest will fall into place. The urge of wanting to know how things worked led me to become an engineer, which is something that I did not see myself as doing throughout the majority of my life while I was focused on athletic aspirations, but I find no regret whatsoever in what I have chosen to do, and am incredibly enthusiastic to see what the future holds for myself with NASA. My advice to future interns is to Embrace the opportunity and work diligently. The privilege of working with experts at NASA is one that should not be taken for granted. Talk to everyone, ask questions and ultimately immerse yourself in the NASA family. The internship program will be one of the most rewarding experiences of a lifetime so enjoy the journey and I hope you gain as much from it as I did.
I found out about my internship offer while I was in the midst of packing up to leave my university for summer break and finishing up the last of my finals. I only had a handful of weeks to figure out where I would be staying, how I would be getting to work, and how I would manage to survive 10 weeks in the South all on my own.
I Think I May Be Homeless!
By this time, a lot of interns had found their roommates, carpools, and many living spaces in the area were full. I remember desperately calling apartments as soon as they opened for business in the morning and writing emails to potential landlords right before I boarded my plane home.
Rental Cars Are Not An Option
Because of my age, I would not be able to rent a car in the area and frantically reached out to every intern I could to ask about possible carpools. I dipped into my savings to figure out my plane ticket to Mississippi and made an Excel worksheet to calculate all my expenses. I had never really been to the South and had no idea what to expect.
No Bed, No Car, No Problem
It was like moving into college all over again, but I had no information, no idea of what to do, and a looming deadline that was rapidly approaching. At one point, I was afraid I would land in Mississippi and be completely homeless, without a ride, and miles away from work. Luckily, a room with a Stennis employee opened up at the last minute. However, as I laid in my bed the night before my internship started, I still had no ride and feared that I would have no choice but to leave my internship before the first day. My housemate even suggested that I should start looking at plane tickets to go back home.
Don’t Tell Me I Can’t!
I didn’t know what I was going to do or how I was going to get to the Stennis Space Center, but I was determined to make it there the first day and set foot into NASA. I did not travel 2,286 miles to quit my journey before it had even begun.
You Will Figure It Out
I am incredibly fortunate that Stennis has the best interns and grateful that so many people offered to help after I shared my plight on the first day. Before lunch, I had a carpool set in place and several new friends who offered to go out of their way to make sure I would be able to make it to work every day. Every time we make weekend plans or after work outings, someone always offers me a ride to make sure I won’t be excluded if I want to go. I am very appreciative that everything worked out for me and I can’t wait to see how the rest of this internship will go!
To learn more about NASA Internships, please visit intern.nasa.gov. Start your journey today! #NASAinterns
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.
Do you have any fun or special NASA or STEM memories that have contributed to your journey here? The University of Michigan wrote a short-story article titled “The farm-raised engineer” that described my journey from a small-town family farm to the PhD program at the University of Michigan. Joseph Xu, Senior Multimedia Producer, interviewed me in the lab, at my apartment, at the research greenhouse, and traveled with me to my family farm in order to capture my family history as farmers and how my education has led me to perform research that has come full-circle with trying to provide innovative solutions to modern agriculture. I was also a 2018 National Geographic Chasing Genius Finalist (1 of 15 in nearly 3,000). http://archive.natgeochasinggenius.com/video/1497. Unfortunately, I did not win the competition. While I did not win the competition from the National Geographic Chasing Genius, I learned to not be deterred or give up after a loss. Bringing the ideas with me as I have the opportunity and resources available here at Kennedy Space Center to further pursue the project.
What challenges or hardships do you feel you have had to overcome to reach this point? Coming from a small and rural community I did not have the high school educational opportunities provided to most of my peers at the University of Michigan. My freshman year was spent trying to study, competing with my peers and adjusting to being “far” (6 ½ hour drive) from home. In order to help pay for my schooling, at the start of my sophomore year I began working on the weekends as a handyman around the city of Ann Arbor to help offset rent costs, groceries, and other school supplies.
The plant research project mentioned in the National Geographic video was actually a side project of mine that I started in my second year of graduate studies. It was what I had intended on developing for my thesis but it never did received the funding. Therefore my thesis work was on a different project and my spare time was spent on pursuing this research. I would work during the day on my thesis research and then in the evenings, a colleague who was also interested in the project would work with me as we further developed the project. This led to a lot of evenings during the week and weekends spent doing research together with some time-stamped photographs at midnight. Since there was no available funding, my father had given me soybeans from the farm (Engeling Farms) and I had spent my own money on supplies for germination and growth tests with my advisor allowing me to use the non-consumable lab equipment.
Are there any educators who inspired you throughout school or contributed to your pursuit of a NASA internship? My advisor, Professor John Foster, had worked at NASA – Glenn Research Center before becoming a Professor at the University of Michigan. His excitement with research and teaching and love of the advancement of knowledge throughout NASA had inspired me to look into the opportunities available to me and to see if I would be able to contribute to any of the on-going work.
I am very thankful to have received the opportunity to work with my current mentor, Annie Meier, PhD, and the OSCAR Team in the Applied Chemistry Lab here at Kennedy Space Center. Dr. Meter and her team focuses on a waste gasification process involving a rig that has been named Orbital Syngas/Commodity Augmentation Reactor or OSCAR for short. My current role in the group is to demonstrate the use of an alternative technology for the same purpose and therefore I am working with a low-temperature plasma torch for waste gasification. This correlates directly with my graduate degree focus within the field of plasma physics. I am also collaborating with GIoia Massa, PhD, of the VEGGIE group for the sterilization of seeds via various plasma technologies.
I was excited for the opportunity and experience to work at NASA for the plasma gasification group as well as a possible collaboration to continue working on the seed project for potential applications and use for the International Space Station. One of the most interesting things about my internship is that I have the ability to work at a historic facility as well as seeing its transition into a multi-user spaceport by experiencing launches first-hand. Learning how to use new equipment and analyze the data will be invaluable in years to come for my career. Also, learning the requirements for flight technologies as well as the advanced chemistry and concepts applied has been fascinating.
How do you feel this internship has helped you develop more professional or personal confidence? While interning here, I am writing my PhD thesis so my goal is to graduate. Then I wish to pursue plasma applications for environmental remediation and applications in agriculture. My mentor’s group as well as another group I am working with, has provided me with the one of the best foundations for learning basic and advanced concepts and knowledge in order to further pursue advanced applications for plasma technologies.
The internship has helped in a professional way by allowing me to interact with experts in fields different than mine. It has also helped me be able to clearly explain the experiences I have gained in my graduate studies and how I may be able to assist in their projects. My name is Kenneth Engeling and this is my story.
About the Author Kenneth Engeling is finishing up his 4th year of his PhD studies in nuclear engineering and radiological sciences with a focus in low temperature plasmas. He comes from a small town farming community in which the farm has been in his family for 4 generations spanning nearly 140 years. Kenneth has traveled from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, which is home to the Wolverines and fantastic food options, and has succeeded in skipping the Michigan winter. Kenneth will be continuing his internship until the end of Summer 2019 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
To learn more about NASA Internships, please visit intern.nasa.gov. Start your journey today! #NASAinterns
My name is Jorge Y. Martínez Santiago, I’m from Caguas, Puerto Rico. I study electrical engineering (EE) at the Universidad Del Turabo in Puerto Rico. I decided to study electrical engineering because I wanted to help in the improvement of new systems to help humanity in the way we communicate, electrical systems in medical equipment, security, perhaps in renewable energies or in the development of new technologies, such as transportation, Construction and robotics. For me, a career in electrical engineering can offer you all that. After my first year of study in EE, my father’s cousin, Felix Soto, told me about an internship opportunity at NASA. At first I was excited, but then I thought that because I was from Puerto Rico I would have more problems to qualify because being considered a minority I would not have the same opportunities. Also, I did not have the best GPA, I assumed that only 4.0 GPA students would be considered for opportunities. This perception made me lose confidence in being selected for an interview.
After the first year of having my profile in the application system, I received updates that I was being considered for an interview, but I was never interviewed. Soon after, I forgot about the selection process because I thought that NASA would never select me. However, my parents and my father’s cousin continued to encourage me to apply again in my third year of college. This time, with a better curriculum and some EE experience, I felt more confident. I applied for spring internship opportunities in 2017, but then Hurricane Maria came.
After Hurricane Maria, we lost the roof at the back of the house, electricity and water. Our phones did not work well – there was no signal on the whole island. Nowadays, we are dependent on technology regularly for almost everything so you can only imagine how difficult our days were. Not to mention that there were people without food, and people dying from lack of electricity or sick people that became worse due to the Hurricane Maria. The days were boring and short; after the sun went down, there was not much to do. This affected me greatly. Due to the lack of electricity and internet, I did not see an email from one of the internship positions I applied to; the email was an invitation to interview for an internship, but since I did not have email access, I lost my chance.
When I discovered that I lost my first and what I thought was my only opportunity to have an internship at NASA, I felt frustrated and unmotivated. I thought I would not have another chance to become a NASA intern. Despite being frustrated, I did not lose hope and continued applying to more opportunities. About a month later, I received several offers for interviews and was selected for a summer internship at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in 2018. I discovered that the NASA community is kind and has a diverse work environment. I was glad to have been selected for a NASA internship! I was excited because I aimed to acquire a professional experience and, in addition, provide me with a different perspective of interning and possibly working at NASA as a minority.
I know that maybe there are people who, like me, have the same thoughts that I had: thinking that for not having a 4.0 GPA, or for not having important things that stand out in their area of study, they would not be considered. However, it is not like that at all. My message to students: if you try hard enough, you can be here too. It does not matter if you have a category five hurricane against you, if you believe in yourself, you can achieve it.
Currently, I’m in my second internship at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. I’m currently working on the Autonomous System Lab developing a program that it will implement the capability to autonomously analyze the behavior of pumps, and apply to the pumps of the Nitrogen System. This capability will enable determination of anomalies and autonomous responses when anomalies are encountered. I’m doing this with help and guidance of my mentor Fernando Figueroa, who has been really helpful and a good mentor. I was just informed that I will continue this internship until the end of summer 2019. After my NASA internship, I will go back to school in Puerto Rico and finish my bachelor’s degree. Moving forward, I would like to get a job at a NASA center where I can continue making a contribution on the future of space exploration.
About the Author Jorge Martínez is a student at the Universidad Del Turabo, finishing a degree in electrical engineering. He lives in Caguas, Puerto Rico with his parents and younger brother. In addition to going to school, he also has an elevators maintenance job. In his spare time he likes to play basketball with his friends, swim, watch series and go to the beach. When stressed due to workload, he likes to listen to music and eat. When he was a kid, he wanted to be an NBA player and an astronaut at the same time. Although he is 5’8″, he still believes he will make it to the NBA. He has worked hard and put a lot of dedication to finish his career and after that get a master’s degree, but he could not do it without the support and love of his parents and his girlfriend, who are always there to help and motivate him.
To learn more about NASA Internships, please visit intern.nasa.gov. Start your journey today! #NASAinterns
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).
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.
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.
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
Grades are important to college students: It usually signifies whether or not the course material is understood. But Samuel Mohler realized his GPA was dictating his life… so he stopped looking at it.
My name is Sam Mohler, and I am in my second internship at NASA. I graduated with a double major in mechanical engineering and mathematics along with a minor in physics from Portland State University. I plan to attend graduate school in the future, but for now I am soaking up as much research experience as I can at NASA. I got to work in numerical optimization at the Glenn Research Center and here at Langley I am working in the Systems Analysis Concept Directorate program to analyze the application tensegrity structures to NASA missions. I can’t believe I get to say those words. Tensegrity structures are structures made of only rigid bars and tension cables. They are extremely stable and adaptive structures that promise lightweight, cheap, and elegant solutions to many engineering problems.
One thing I love about the NASA centers is the wide ranging background everyone has. Everyone here has their own unique quirk or story. I was asked to share something different about myself and was thrilled to add to the diverse story of NASA.
The one quirk I have that I have never met anyone else with involves grades. I do not know what my GPA is. My first year of college, a lot of stress and unhealthy habits occurred when I religiously began checking every grade, every score, every point. I realized that it was not a feasible way to go through life. I had to do something. My solution was simply to never look. If I got a test back, I would turn it over and recycle it immediately. I knew, everyone knows, during a test what they know and what they don’t know. I didn’t need a number to tell me that. Better than that, I found that it freed me of this concept of ‘knowing everything.’ It also freed me from searching for this classic Hollywood movie moment. There are 5 minutes left on the clock, my hands are sweaty, but just in the nick of time I get this epiphany and figure out the really hard problem. Epiphanies happen randomly and without warning: They are not great to depend on, and you can’t train for them. Real problem solving, real engineering is all about incremental small achievements. NASA has shown me that and it is so inspiring for me. The real achievements are plagued with a much slower story than we want to believe.
Another reason I stopped looking at grades was this lose-lose scenario that always played out because of them. I always hated the fact that if I got a bad grade I would shut down and convince myself I would never know the material, there was no hope, give up now. If I got a really good grade I would convince myself I knew it all, I was the best, and then for the next test I would perform poorly because I thought I didn’t need to study as much. It was a lose-lose game. There was no benefit even if I did get a good grade.
I’ve come to realize, I never want to think I’m a master of anything, especially in science. It is much better to always believe there is so much more to know. If it wasn’t for this quirk I would not be here today. I survived college because I let go of the grades. It let me understand things on a much deeper level. I was learning from pure passion, enthusiasm, and curiosity. I wasn’t doing it all for grades or social ranking. I wasn’t making some algorithm of necessary points to get an A in my head. I was doing it for me and it paid off. One last thing: If you’re wondering how I still don’t know my GPA after applying for these internships (a required input for the application), I have a friend sworn to secrecy to put that number in for me.
Starting a new career at age 29 may be daunting for some, but Sarah Vita followed her passion… and it led her to NASA.
My journey to Marshall Space Flight Center was a circuitous one. I like to think of myself as an atypical intern… in the best way possible. I graduated from the University of Southern California in 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature, and two minors in French and Neuroscience. The look on people’s faces here when I tell them that is about what you’d expect. So how did I get here? It wasn’t luck, I’ll tell you that. I had to work really hard and, at 29-years old, have made some sacrifices that put me at a different ‘sign-post’ in life than most of my friends who maybe already own homes, finished medical school, or are thinking about having children. But that’s OK. My life has been a wonderful adventure. And now I’m here, working for NASA!
I have always been extremely fascinated by space exploration and astronomical science, but never really thought I could make it my career. After a string of jobs post-graduation that left me unfulfilled, I went to live in northern Thailand for a year to travel and volunteer at an elephant sanctuary. It was the definition of wanderlust and I loved every minute of it. When I came back to the United States, I began taking pre-requisite courses for veterinary school which included math and physics. After a couple of semesters of STEM classes I realized, hey, I’m pretty good at this, and I really enjoy it. My dream of working for NASA began to seem more like a feasible reality.
I was taking my engineering pre-requisites at Santa Monica College, a community college in Southern California a mere two miles from the beach. I joined the Physics Club and scoured the NASA website for internship and job opportunities. I found out about the National Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) program, an educational outreach program geared specifically towards community college STEM students and quickly applied to the JPL branch. The NCAS program is really where everything started to fall into place for me. NCAS provides an authentic NASA experience to community college STEM students and encourages them to apply to graduate programs or transfer to 4-year universities. I’ve honestly never felt so inspired in my life than during my week at NCAS JPL. One of the biggest things I learned from NCAS was that anything is possible, and no dream is too big. NCAS is a very unique experience in that it allows students to get real hands on engineering experience much like a traditional internship program, but because it’s catered specifically for community college students who don’t have degrees yet, a large part of the program is focused on how to take those next steps to get into a full-time program. We were introduced to NCAS graduates who were now studying at top universities, attended inspiring talks from JPL employees, toured the campus (JPL has a Mars yard!), and were given resources that extended beyond the program’s end date. It is definitely because of NCAS that I am here today, interning at Marshall. Eddie Gonzalez and Roslyn Soto run NCAS JPL and are truly two of the most hardworking, passionate, and motivating people at NASA. I owe much of my success in getting here to them as they are constantly inspiring students and make themselves available for questions and assistance when applying to other NASA internships or schools. They made me realize that my dream of working for NASA was attainable and helped me do it.
A few more semesters of classes later, and after a stint as a full-time technical consultant, I went to see astronaut Jose Hernandez speak at Generation 1st Degree Pico Rivera, a community program with a mission to provide resources to minorities to get college degrees. Along with Jose’s inspiring and moving story, I was able to meet other NASA engineers who had varying backgrounds, overcame struggles, and ultimately made it to NASA. At 29, the thought of starting over in school, especially in something as rigorous as engineering, is often overwhelming. But every time I hear one of these NASA icons, like Jose, tell their story, a fire is ignited in me and I am reminded that it is possible and so worth it. I went home that day and applied for every NASA internship I qualified for. I didn’t hear back for months and just assumed it wasn’t going to happen this year. What now? Do I continue my coursework, apply for a second bachelor’s degree program or a master’s program? Do something else? And then the email came. On August 14, a cool two weeks before the fall internship session began, I received an email from Marshall Space Flight Center, inviting me to intern with NASA this semester. It was a cosmic sign.
So I packed my bags and traveled all the way from Los Angeles to Huntsville to start my journey. And that about brings us up to speed. I am currently interning with the Space Environments team within the Spacecraft and Vehicle Systems Department at Marshall Space Flight Center. I analyze the space environment (with a focus on plasma) and how it impacts space systems like the International Space Station and the astronauts on it! My team is absolutely amazing and I am learning new things every day. The internship program here really allows us to get the full Marshall experience with site tours so we can see all of the other cool things that go on at Marshall, weekly talks with engineers, and weekend barbecues! I can’t wait to see what the universe has in store for me next!