‘I’m Not Qualified,’ Intern’s Life Detour Towards her Dreams

 

‘There is no one road to get where you are going and there is no timeline. I am incredibly happy to use the life experiences I’ve learned on my detour to my internship.’ Susie Bennett interns at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center after years of pursuing an entirely different career. (NASA/Susie Bennett).
‘There is no one road to get where you are going and there is no timeline. I am incredibly happy to use the life experiences I’ve learned on my detour to my internship.’ Susie Bennett interns at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center after years of pursuing an entirely different career. (NASA/Susie Bennett).

When going through life, our paths may seem linear, but that is far from the truth. For every choice we make, there are multiple options and paths presented to us. When given the opportunity, would you change your path? For Susie Bennett, a current intern at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, her path to an internship was far from linear. With a degree in business and a resume filled with retail management, the idea of ever working at NASA seemed like an out of reach prospect. Despite all of this, she never gave up on her dream of working in the space industry.
 

Rediscovering Past Interests

A common question we all get when going through school is “what do you want to be when you grow up?” While these answers are simply aspirations, they can make a big impact on your field of study. An aspiring doctor may take a bigger interest in biology, an aspiring painter may look more into the arts, or an aspiring engineer may look into welding courses. 

Bennett spent her years in grade school as a lover of space and science. She used her free time reading and watching the shuttles launch from a distance in her southwest Florida home. However, as she grew older, she struggled with the subjects she once was fond of and decided to put STEM behind her in favor of the arts and humanities. 

After obtaining a B.A. in Business Administration, Bennett worked in retail management for a decade. While she gained valuable experience in the industry, she felt that it was lacking the fulfillment she needed. One day, she decided to change all of that. 

A Major Life Change

Bennett enrolled in a biology program as a student researcher on two different projects. In the first, she worked on dissecting mosquitos and evaluating their microbiomes. In the second, she performed spectral analysis of yeast bio transformed compounds in beer. 

With her newly gained knowledge and confidence within the science field, Bennett started as a research and development scientist at a biotech company. Then she continued her journey as a brewery scientist and built a lab program from scratch. During this time, Bennett learned that NASA Internships were available for graduate students.  

With a childhood longing to work in the space industry as her motivator, she immediately went to apply. ‘I realized I was the only person standing in my way. I wasn’t going to stand in my way this time. I wanted to make elementary school me proud,’ Bennett said. 

Bennett’s Time at NASA 

Bennett accepted an offer as an Exploration Research and Technology Programs intern. She worked on a team who researched the unique stressors for biological life in a space environment using plants as the subject. While spaceflight experiments are not always possible due to time constraints and cost, ground-based equipment may be used to simulate the space environment. 

A Zinnia plant pillow floats through the U.S. Destiny Laboratory aboard the International Space Station. The challenging process of growing the zinnias provided an exceptional opportunity for scientists back on Earth to better understand how plants grow in microgravity. (NASA Johnson Space Center /International Space Station).
A Zinnia plant pillow floats through the U.S. Destiny Laboratory aboard the International Space Station. The challenging process of growing the zinnias provided an exceptional opportunity for scientists back on Earth to better understand how plants grow in microgravity. (NASA Johnson Space Center /International Space Station).

The team evaluated 40 scientific papers detailing the accuracy of machines stimulating gravity on earth. Data was compiled and reviewed for how closely simulated microgravity results compared to those obtained from experiments conducted in real microgravity. 

‘This internship signifies a major turning point in my life, not necessarily only on a professional level, but on a personal level. It signifies an end to the doubt I’ve let fill my head. It quieted the voice that spent too long telling me, ‘I’m not qualified.’ It marks the moment I realized I can do anything that I put my mind to, and it puts to bed the idea that there is only one path to success,’ Bennet said. 

Take the leap and apply for an internship. Start your application on our website or read more stories about the paths to working for NASA. Want to prepare for your internship? Read about the six habits of successful interns at NASA. 

Carolina Rodriguez, STEM Engagement Communications Intern
Claire O’Shea, STEM Engagement Communications Intern, Editor
NASA Johnson Space Center 

 

Research on Plants in Space Leads to Law Degree

‘Not only did I feel supported at all times, but I also felt encouraged to pursue my passions.’ Josie Pechous worked at NASA Kennedy Space Center as a Bioinformatics for Space Crop Production intern. Photo credit: (NASA /Josie Pechous).
‘Not only did I feel supported at all times, but I also felt encouraged to pursue my passions.’ Josie Pechous worked at NASA Kennedy Space Center as a Bioinformatics for Space Crop Production intern. Photo credit: (NASA /Josie Pechous).

As spaceflight exploration ventures deeper into our solar system, astronauts will need a fresh, sustainable food source to maintain health and wellness. Understanding how plants are affected in spaceflight enables researchers to optimize growing conditions for peak nutritional value and harvest index,’ Josie Pechous said.

While at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Josie worked as a Bioinformatics for Space Crop Production Intern. She compared transcriptomes of previous plant spaceflight missions to identify any genes or signaling pathways that may be useful for future successful space crop production. She began her internship researching spaceflight-induced stressors on the human body. With an interest in plants and nutrition, Josie sought information on how the right diet can boost astronaut health, performance, and wellbeing.

Josie also composed a literature review on microgreens: small, nutrient-dense plants requiring little horticultural demands. She highlighted their nutritional composition, growing conditions, and potential for sustaining life on long-range spaceflight missions to supplement the pre-packaged spaceflight diet.

Mentorship was integral in making Josie’s internship a rewarding experience. Christina M. Johnson assigned a project that worked with Josie’s career goals and encouraged her to direct research to areas that matched her interests.

‘Focusing on a subject that I was passionate about while supporting NASA objectives was such a gratifying experience. Further gratifying has been the continued connection between me and my mentor post-internship. Although over a year has passed . . . my mentor continues to support me,’ Josie said.

The first growth test of crops in the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) aboard the International Space Station. The APH is a growth chamber on station for plant research. It uses LED lights and a porous clay substrate with controlled release fertilizer to deliver water, nutrients and oxygen to the plant roots. Photo credit: (NASA/International Space Station).
The first growth test of crops in the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) aboard the International Space Station. The APH is a growth chamber on station for plant research. It uses LED lights and a porous clay substrate with controlled release fertilizer to deliver water, nutrients and oxygen to the plant roots. Photo credit: (NASA/International Space Station).

After Josie’s internship, her research was incorporated into a scientific article, ‘Large-Scale Crop Production for the Moon and Mars: Current Gaps and Future Perspectives.’ She recently attended the American Society for Gravitation and Space Research annual conference and presented on the advantages of microgreen carotenoid composition for space travel.

Josie completed her degree at Drake University in biochemistry and cell and molecular biology. She now studies at Vermont Law School, pursuing food and agriculture law and policy for a sustainable future.

Interested in becoming a member of the team? Check out our website to learn more about the Artemis Generation and find information on eligibility and application steps. Want more content? Check out ten things you can do now to prepare for a NASA Internship.

Claire A. O’Shea / NASA Johnson Space Center

Margarita Bassil: Transfiguration and Determination at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

I always had a passion for art and science, but was unsure as to what career path would incorporate both interests. After doing some research, I discovered the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields and decided that I wanted to be one of the world’s problem solvers – I wanted to be an Engineer.

When I informed my parents of my decision, my father replied, “Margo, why don’t you do something easy?” Initially convinced that my father doubted my ability to perform well academically, I made sure to inform him of every A I earned throughout my years in high school to demonstrate that I had the ability to succeed as an engineering student. However, it was not until I started my engineering journey at Valencia College in Central Florida that I realized academia was not the only challenge I was going to encounter.

NASA Inters in flight suits at NASA Kennedy
NASA Kennedy’s Jalime Vargas (left) and Margarita Bassil (right) in flight suits standing outside the Operations and Controls building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

Walking into my “Introduction to Engineering” course, I was one of approximately twenty women in a large auditorium filled with men. Realizing there was no amount of studying to overcome this surprising statistic, I found myself very discouraged. Looking for words of encouragement, I came across one of John F. Kennedy’s famous quotes during his speech about the Apollo program, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” With those words in mind, I transfigured any feelings of discouragements into motivation and took the lead role for the engineering project assigned to each group. Although there were many hurdles along the way, I discovered that embedded in every failure and mistake is a lesson to learn and a challenge to overcome.

This self-epiphany convinced me to attempt a goal that originally appeared out of reach – interning at NASA. With little to no previous experience besides handling cash, I doubted my first internship would be at one of the world’s most prestigious aerospace agencies. Remembering my passion of opposing challenges, I converted every ounce of doubt into determination and applied to an internship at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center located in Merritt Island, Florida. I informed my parents that, if given the opportunity, I would accept the offer without hesitation regardless of how far it was from home. To my surprise, I received and accepted the offer on my birthday. Wishes do come true!

Interning at Kennedy Space Center has allowed me to enhance my leadership and problem solving skills with the practice of open communication and collaboration. I also get the opportunity to practice my concept of transfiguration the NASA way by “failing forward” and interpreting mistakes as lessons. Going forward, I will apply this ideology to fuel my passion of becoming an engineer so that I may influence other women to pursue a degree in STEM and continuously improve myself in both academia and life itself.