Podcasts Highlight the NASA Intern Experience

If you’re fascinated by the idea of interning at NASA, contributing to NASA missions and exploring the extraordinary every day, you’ve come to the right place. Listen to #NASAinterns experiences via NASA’s Podcasts! Don’t see a topic here that you want to learn more about? Tweet us your recommendation!

Houston, We Have a Podcast: How to Be a Successful Intern at NASA

Interns Jaden Chambers from Kennedy Space Center and Leah Davis from Johnson Space Center are joined by mentor Kelly Smith in this episode examining the highly effective habits of successful interns. This episode will be available July 29 at https://www.nasa.gov/johnson/HWHAP.

The Invisible Network Podcast: 2021 Interns

Each year, NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Internship Project welcomes students of all levels to develop projects of real benefit to the agency while earning real world experience in their fields. In this episode of The Invisible Network podcast, we’ll speak with members of 2021’s intern cohort at three different NASA centers. This episode will be available July 29 at https://www.nasa.gov/invisible.

Small Steps, Giant Leaps Podcast: Intern Takeover

Interns take over the Small Steps, Giant Leaps, podcast from NASA’s Academy of Program/Project & Engineering Leadership (APPEL) Knowledge Services. This episode will be available July 29 at https://www.nasa.gov/podcasts/small-steps-giant-leaps.

Women in STEM

Sophia Hahn, Shelita Hall, and Emily Anderson, NASA interns from across the agency, discuss being women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, or math), their journey to work at NASA, and the unique opportunities they have experienced during their internship. This episode was recorded on June 14, 2021 and available at https://www.nasa.gov/johnson/HWHAP/women-in-stem.

Uncommon Origins

Shawn Cvetezar, Laura Paulino, and Don Caluya, NASA interns representing NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Ames Research Center, and Johnson Space Center, respectively, reflect upon the non-traditional paths that led them to NASA and share the many areas and projects that are benefitting from their experience. This episode was recorded on May 27, 2021 and available at https://www.nasa.gov/johnson/HWHAP/uncommon-origins.

Citizen Science on Station

Sarah Smith, a NASA intern, interviews students who were recently selected to fly their experiments to the International Space Station as part of the program under NASA’s STEM on Station initiative called Student Payload Opportunity with Citizen Science, or SPOCS. The interviews for this episode were recorded in March of 2021 and available at https://www.nasa.gov/johnson/HWHAP/citizen-science-on-station.

Better Together

Shaneequa Vereen, public affairs specialist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, speaks with NASA interns as they recount their journey with NASA, sharing their backgrounds and experiences they had before and during their time with the agency.  The content for this episode was recorded on February 5, 2021 and available at https://www.nasa.gov/johnson/HWHAP/better-together.

Pathways

Jonathan Abary, Pathways Program Manager, and Alexis Vance, Pathways intern in the crew and thermal systems division, discuss the Pathways internship program at NASA Johnson Space Center. This podcast was recorded on March 20th, 2019 and available at https://www.nasa.gov/johnson/HWHAP/pathways.

Want more? Learn more about NASA Internships by:

As NASA continues to move forward with the Artemis program, you, the Artemis Generation and future STEM workforce, will help take us to distant worlds. Are you ready? Visit us and apply at https://intern.nasa.gov.

From immigrant to working on NASA’s Computational Fluid Dynamics codes

By Ramona Barajas-Villar

Women’s History Month: Recognizing some of our intern leaders 

At NASA we celebrate Women’s History Month by recognizing some of our interns and their contributions to NASA.  Meet Wendy Yang. Wendy is an intern at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center and a student at the University of California, Berkeley where she is majoring in Mechanical Engineering. 

Meet Wendy Yang, an intern at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center.
Credits: Wendy Yang.

Tell us about your intern journey to NASA or anything you would like to share.

My journey started over a decade ago, when I found out about NASA by flipping through TV channels and came upon NASA TV. I was a new immigrant to the US who didn’t understand or speak English at the time, but the space imagery on screen fascinated me to this day. I learned more about what NASA does in middle school as part of the NASA Explorer School program, and I was encouraged to study math and science in order to pursuit a career in the field by my teachers and a current NASA employee. This resulted in me pursuing a mechanical engineering major at my current university. However, upon entering college, I had doubts about my abilities and did not apply for an internship despite being eligible after naturalization. It wasn’t until my junior year when my aerodynamics professor recommended to me that I should apply for an internship to further my development that I finally decided to apply for a NASA internship.

What is your role on your current project?

I write codes that performs CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) simulation on airfoils.

How does your project tie into the Moon To Mars mission? The Artemis program? Any other NASA mission?

My project focuses on aeronautics, one of the key missions of NASA since its NACA days. My project seeks to reach greater heights of what is possible in aircraft designs by exploring fundamental aerodynamic theories and develop cutting edge aeronautics technology.

How are you staying connected to other interns? NASA employees?

I am staying connected via PAXC (Promoting Agency Cross-Center Connections), a student organization within NASA that connects interns and students across all of NASA.

What student organization (school, community, etc.) has helped you develop professionally in your STEM/non-STEM journey?

I am currently a part of Space Technology and Rocketry, the competitive experimental rocketry team at UC Berkeley. The team competed in rocketry competitions like the NASA Student Launch competition and other intercollegiate rocketry competition. My time on the team taught me project management, cross team technical communication, and many technical skills related to rocketry. Many of my teammates went on to a career in aerospace. I also did a year of service under a student oriented AmeriCorps program, where I worked with liked minded students from my university and others to help members of our community.

How do you feel interning during #CountdownToMars?!

I am extremely excited about the landing! My project is related to an effort to launch aircrafts on Mars, so I am very excited to see how Ingenuity will perform on Mars. If Ingenuity is successful, it will validate many aerodynamics theories and open up more possibilities within the field.

#NASAMoonKit: Intern Edition

Students! What’s in Your #NASAMoonKit?

Steps are being taken to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon, and we asked our NASA interns: what would you pack for a trip to the Moon?  Here is what our #NASAinterns family have created!

Credit: Abel Morelos.

Name: Abel Morelos (Coordinator)
Center: Ames Research Center 
Description:
Coordinator pack to inspire the Artemis Generation!

Credit: Cassidy Matlock.

Name: Cassidy Matlock
Center: Johnson Space Center 
Description: 
Creativity + health on the Moon.

Credit: Courtney Golman.

Name: Courtney Golman
Center: Kennedy Space Center 
Description:
I included the essentials: hand sanitizer and mask, dry shampoo, and of course Ariana Grande perfume. I also included my favorite items for work: coffee, laptop, glasses, and notebook, as well as all my cameras to capture the out of this world views!

Credit: Don Richmon Caluya.

Name: Don Richmon Caluya
Center: Johnson Space Center 
Description:
From home, to deployment, to NASA, and now to the Moon!

Credit: Gabrielle Barone.

Name: Gabrielle Barone
Center: Headquarters 
Description:
I would bring books (I’ll bring as many as I can!), fuzzy socks, hair ties/hair clip (because if there’s zero gravity my hair will be going everywhere!), lemon iced tea mix (for water bottles), sleep mask, and a picture of a landmark at my college (also my hometown).

Credit: Jennifer Becerra.

Name: Jennifer Becerra (Coordinator)
Center: Johnson Space Center 
Description: 
Connected to fitness on the Moon.

Credit: Jeremy Trujillo.

Name: Jeremy Trujillo
Center: Johnson Space Center 
Description:
Imagine rock climbing in 16.6% Earth’s gravity! I’ll need all my gear for that, plus a few essentials…

Credit: Julia Lang.

Name: Julia Lang
Center: Goddard Space Flight Center 
Description:
I would bring a good book, a sketchbook/journal along with my drawing set, a cozy NASA sweatshirt, and my 10 week old kitten, Frannie!

Credit: Katherine Herrick.

Name: Katherine Herrick
Center: Johnson Space Center 
Description: 
Artemis in practice – the making of a Rocket Woman.

Credit: Mark Edwards.

Name: Mark Edwards
Center: Wallops Flight Facility  
Description:
If you’re on the moon you have to log your thought and what you see but it’s also a great time for some low gravity cardistry.

Credit: Shane Tolentino.

Name: Shane Tolentino
Center: Johnson Space Center  
Description: 
As an illustrator, most of the items in my moon kit are art related! I decided to bring a set of small markers, my favorite black marker, and my favorite ball point pen along with a small sketchbook. My phone was the next obvious item, as it holds all of my favorite e-books, music, and photos of my friends and family. I also decided to bring my lucky pocket knife, my favorite lip balm, and of course, a charger for both my phone and earbuds!

Credit: Ramona Barajas Villar and Dayana Contreras.

Name: Ramona Barajas Villar and Dayana Contreras
Center: Armstrong Flight Research Center
Description:
When traveling to the moon one must bring essentials.

Credit: Trevor Brownlow.

Name: Trevor Brownlow
Center: Stennis Space Center
Description:
By bringing mementos such as a vintage NASA astronaut toy, an Apollo 11 button pin, and various Artemis/SLS/Orion trinkets, I sought to balance historical appreciation with enthusiasm for new journeys. For entertainment, I have a portable tablet and two sets of playing cards. A notepad and journal are on hand for introspective moments. A chocolate chip energy bar and my favorite chocolate candies are also in my kit to enjoy. With a small photo of my dog Winnie and a toy turtle representing my town, I will carry symbols of home to the Moon. Astronaut Snoopy is also along for the ride!

Join the fun! We invite you, members of the Artemis Generation, to share your excitement by thinking about what you would pack for the Moon! What can’t you leave the planet without? Is it your camera? Your drawing pad? Or maybe your musical instrument? How would you organize everything you need for your next giant leap?

Show us what’s in your suitcase with the hashtag #NASAMoonKit! Learn more: https://www.nasa.gov/nasamoonkit.

Interested in NASA Internships? Learn more by visiting https://intern.nasa.gov/.

NASA Opens the Door for Multiple Projects

Meet Dayana Contreras, an AFRC intern for fall 2019 and spring 2020. Photo credit: NASA AFRC/ Lauren Hughes and Ken Ulbrich.

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.

Dayana works on the PRADTL-3c. Photo credit: NASA AFRC/ Lauren Hughes and Ken Ulbrich.

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.

Dayana poses next to the PRADTL-3c wing. Photo credit: NASA AFRC/ Lauren Hughes and Ken Ulbrich.

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.

Hurricane Maria nor adversity keeps Puerto Rico student from interning at NASA’s Glenn Research Center and Stennis Space Center

Jorge proudly stands by the NASA meatball on his second internship day at NASA’s Stennis Space Center.

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.

Jorge tours NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

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.

Jorge’s intern journey leads him to a second internship at NASA’s Stennis Space Center.

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.

Jorge currently interns in the Autonomous Systems Laboratory at NASA’s Stennis Space Center.

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

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

Xander Levinson: Seeing Beyond at NASA’s Ames Research Center

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is one of NASA’s most highly-anticipated space-borne telescope projects. Its primary objective will be to directly image the oldest galaxies, planets, exoplanets, protostars, and brown dwarfs. The spacecraft, telescope, and its corresponding data receiving systems are still under development, with the complete observatory itself currently projected to launch in the spring of 2019.

I began my college education pursuing a linguistics degree at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, but withdrew for personal and financial reasons after three years. I joined the workforce with a major international retailer until 2009’s recession, at which point I was laid off (then rehired, then laid off again). At this point, I knew retail was not the life for me. I decided to go all-in and chase my passion: SPACE! I started community college at both Golden West College (GWC) and Orange Coast College (OCC) in Orange County, California. It was at GWC that I was introduced to NASA’s educational outreach programs. I cannot emphasize enough the impact these opportunities have had on my life. Through a series of rigorous applications and elimination processes, I had the double honor of being selected to participate in two community college outreach programs at NASA/JPL: the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Undergraduate Scholars (JPLUS) program in the summer of 2015, followed by the National Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) program in the spring of 2016.

It is absolutely because of my involvement in these programs that I had the confidence to push myself in school, and to apply for this internship at NASA Ames Research Center. I graduated from GWC with an A.A. in Chemistry and an A.S. in Mathematics; and from OCC with an A.S. in Physics and an A.S. in Astronomy – the first such degree ever conferred by that institution. As I pursue a bachelor’s in astrophysics and a minor in Earth and Planetary Sciences nearby at UC Santa Cruz (Go Banana Slugs!), it has become more and more apparent that my dream career will have me involved with exoplanet discovery and classification programs.

Of course, being a major Trekkie, my absolute dream would be to physically travel to these worlds to analyze them personally. However, since that technology is not currently available, I am happy to work with high-quality spectroscopy data in the meantime. Everyone loves pretty pictures, right? So, this opportunity at Ames was one I could not allow to slip through my hands. Thankfully, I was selected and am excited and proud to work with Tom Greene and his team (including my partner intern Stephanie Striegel from San Jose State University) on the James Webb Space Telescope project.

My goals as an intern on this project are to implement and refine the pipeline for incoming data transmissions (once the telescope is launched), facilitate data reduction of received downlink information, and to provide automated statistical analysis of data. In short, my job is to automate the systematic, efficient identification and classification of substellar objects – with much greater clarity and accuracy than ever before. In order to accomplish this seemingly daunting task, my teammate and I run Python scripts to analyze and sort spectroscopic data, which we will eventually use in describing (in great detail) the constructions and atmospheres of extrasolar bodies. Currently, we are calibrating our codes using sample data from a recent batch of tests run on the instrumentation itself. We plan to further refine it using other data reduction codes provided by the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in the near future.

I think the most exciting part of this project is that it is very likely that our work will be how we may someday identify “Earth 2.0” out there! This project is both humbling and inspiring. The work comes with a realization of how small and young we truly are, but it also amazes me how much information we are able to glean from a small beam of light from such distant places. Years from now, when I look at the images that JWST will present to us, I will know that I had a part in making it happen. For me, there is nothing more rewarding than the knowledge that my efforts here at NASA Ames will contribute immeasurably to humanity’s quest to understand the universe, as well as our place in it.

Sarah Vita: An Uncharted Course to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

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!