‘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

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 was published on 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 was published on 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.


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 the Farm to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

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.

Kenneth sits on top of the 30,000 bushel grain bin on Engeling Farms property [Photo by J. Xu]
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.

Kenneth working at the botanical gardens [Photo by J. Xu]
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.

Kenneth stands in front of the historic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

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.

Kenneth turns on the power supply for the plasma torch in the plasma gasification experiment

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.

Kenneth walks down the field entrance at his family’s farm in Central Illinois [Photo by J. Xu]
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

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.

Madison Melton: Launching Her Future at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

“Age is but a number” is a phrase familiar to NASA Kennedy intern Madison Melton. Pursuing NASA opportunities in high school led her to receive a fall 2017 internship at the age of 18.

Growing up, I watched the movie Apollo 13 and experienced the adrenaline of “go for launch.” I was captivated by the enormous power and massiveness of rockets, awed by the roar and thrill of blast off, and intrigued by the vastness of space. For me, this is what my dreams were made of.

Now, I’m a NASA intern and living my dream. Although it was hard getting here, the journey was a labor of love. Along the way, I’ve had much help from my mentor, Scott Pleasants, and my parents, LB and Frieda Melton. These people taught me that no one is ever too young to pursue his or her dreams, and encouraged me to pursue my own. Scott, along with my parents, taught me to trust in the doors that God opens, and soon after that my dream of working at NASA became a reality.

During my junior year of high school at the age of 15, I participated in a class held by NASA called Virginia Aerospace Science and Technology Scholars (VASTS). This experience ignited my passion for aerospace and validated my direction and that my dreams are attainable. Graduating as a top VASTS scholar, I was offered the opportunity to go to NASA Langley Summer Academy for a week to develop a mission to Mars. Here, I was with other like-minded students and professionals, pushed myself in new areas, and submerged myself in my dream. Leaving Langley, I was even more determined and focused on becoming an engineer and earning a chance to work at NASA.

After completing several other engineering internships, my chance at NASA came. During the spring semester of my first year of college, my current mentor at NASA, Carlos Alvarado, called to interview me for an internship for fall 2017. I can’t begin to say how honored I am to have been chosen as an intern for NASA. From orientation to tours to seeing rockets being built in the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) and Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), I feel like I am a part of something bigger than myself, and that really drives me to work as hard as I can. Just knowing that I can contribute and help advance humankind by ultimately working towards sending a spacecraft to Mars motivates me to diligently work and excel with the material entrusted to me.

For my internship, I am working with the Launch Services Program (LSP) in the Avionics branch. I evaluate vehicle data from commercial launch providers (i.e. ULA, Space X, and Orbital Sciences) and model that information on IRIS and Winplot scripts/pages. The IRIS system and Winplot telemetry monitoring system are in-house developed applications and serve as the primary tools within LSP for real-time vehicle monitoring during launch vehicle operations, launch day countdowns, and data review. The development of IRIS screens and Winplot scripts is intended to capture recent avionics modifications implemented on current launch providers systems. I support a crew of senior engineers to develop an understanding of launch vehicle system/sub-systems, launch vehicle telemetry, data collection, problem solving, and programming. Also, I monitor launch countdowns, test operations for the rockets, and assess anomalies and issues.

Madison Melton and the "Places We'll Go" banner
At age 18, Madison spend her fall 2017 semester working with the Launch Services Program in the Avionics branch at Kennedy Space Center, where she evaluated and modeled vehicle data from commercial launch providers.

Working with such immense talents and bright minds is inspiring and humbling as well. At eighteen years old, I am the youngest intern in our group for this semester and the youngest in the Launch Services Program Avionics department. I am honored to be here and ready to give NASA my best. Every day, I go to work with a smile on my face, because I think I have the best job in the world.