3 Life Lessons From NASA Interns

NASA Internships provide students with valuable skills, knowledge, and wisdom to carry with them into their future careers. Here from three current NASA interns on what they took away from their own internships.

1. Don’t Limit Yourself, Jorge Levario-Delagarza

“I learned through my time at NASA to not constrain myself or limit myself to what I think I can do but instead to embark on challenges I do not know if I can accomplish,” Jorge Levario-Delagarz said. “There is a great opportunity for growth in taking on a challenge that is brand new to you. There is a lot of struggle in taking on a brand new challenge but there is also new skills waiting to be learned, new ways of thinking waiting to be developed and a new experience waiting to be lived.”

As a first-generation college student studying mechanical engineering at the University of Texas Arlington, Delagarza always dreamed of one day working at NASA. Delagarza currently works as a Fractional Thermal Runaway Calorimetry Engineering Intern supporting NASA’s Power and Propulsion Division.

Through his internship, Delagarza is researching ways to enhance the safety of manned space flight by preventing and controlling hazardous effects of Thermal Runaway batteries.

“When humans work together towards a common goal, it doesn’t really matter if the goal is a quarter of a million miles away or if there are only a few years to achieve it. Ambition and togetherness can help get the job done,” Delagarza said.

Credits: Jorge Levario-Delagarza
Credits: Jorge Levario-Delagarza

2. Passion is Powerful, Pia Sen

 “NASA has taught me that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to as long as I remain passionate about my work,” Pia Sen said. “I am lucky enough to love my research, and NASA inspires me every day by creating an environment where everyone sees the beauty and exciting parts of science so even the everyday things feel like they contribute towards a bigger mission.”

After watching the movie, The Martian, as a freshman in college, Sen became fascinated with the study of space biology. Sen is now participating in her seventh NASA internship while attending George Washington University as a first year PhD student studying environmental microbiology. Sen currently works with the International Space Station integration group, finding new ways to track research on the space station.

“During my time at NASA, I’ve learned that there are so many moving parts that go into making science happen in space, and I’ve learned to appreciate the necessity of working with people of different backgrounds and expertise to make science happen smoothly in space,” Sen said.

Credits: Pia Sen
Credits: Pia Sen

3. Do Your Best Regardless of the Task, Dominic Tanzillo

“Not all of my tasks were scholarly and sometimes I have needed to clean supply closets, move boxes, or help with IT issues. These extremes have reinforced the idea that there is never a job too big or too small and to always fully engage with work,” Dominic Tanzillo said.

Growing up, Tanzillo was surrounded by stories and the excitement of NASA. His grandfather worked as an engineer during the Apollo Program by learning calculus from mail order catalogs.

“Stories from him and my mom watching the Apollo 17 launch have always stayed with me but my heart has always been in medicine.”

Tanzillo is currently a student at Duke University studying math and neuroscience, planning to pursue a career in space medicine. He now interns at Johnson Space Center in the engineering directorate, working to integrate biometric devices to measure the cognitive states of Air Force and NASA pilots.

“I have loved applying classroom lessons to the real world and learning that often, the clean black and white categories we learn in school are often a bit messier and fuzzier,” Tanzillo said.

Credits: Dominic Tanzillo
Credits: Dominic Tanzillo

Interns are playing a key role in the advancement NASA’s mission, exploration, and discovery.  Through the Artemis Generation, NASA is seeking to accomplish the goal of sending the first woman and first person of color to the moon. Are you interested in playing your own role by pursuing a NASA internship? Check out our website to learn more about the Artemis Generation and find information on eligibility and application steps.

Megan Hale / 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.

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.

Student uses mathematics skills to contribute to NASA’s missions

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 Nazifa Taha. Nazifa is an intern at NASA Headquarters and a senior at The City College of New York where she studies Applied Mathematics. 

Meet Nazifa Taha, an intern at NASA's Headquarters.
Credits: Nazifa Taha.

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

I recall that even 3 years ago, I did not know what I wanted to pursue. I was quite lost in what I wanted to become. Finally, after a lot of frustrating college semesters, I found my true passion in Mathematics. I want to see the world and understand our universe through the lens of Mathematics. With such interests in understanding our planet and what is beyond us, I took a deep dive into watching documentaries on nature, animals, and space. They helped me become more aware of how everything around me is in harmony with nature. In the summer of 2020, I asked myself “ What can be my platform to explore Earth and beyond?” The answer was right there…NASA! So, I started digging into NASA’s missions and the work that the agency does. They truly resonated with my passion. Ever since then, it became my goal to be a NASA intern. I applied for a NASA internship and NASA L’SPACE Academy for Fall 2020.I did not get an offer for a NASA internship in Fall 2020, however, I received an offer from NASA L’SPACE Academy. As a result, a part of me was disappointed but a part of me was incredibly excited as well. During my role as a student at NASA L’SPACE Academy in Fall 2020, I met a lot of people from NASA who are very passionate and driven. I worked with my fellow teammates who taught me a lot of things and gave me a profound experience on team work. The biggest lessons I learnt from this Academy were to be bold about my passion, to never give up and the values of teamwork. I took those lessons into account and applied to a NASA internship for Spring 2021. In December 2020, I can still vividly recall the moment when I read an email in my inbox which stated that I was accepted into a NASA internship project. It was a surreal moment. Even to this day, there are times when I cannot believe that I have accomplished my goal. I am deeply grateful and humbled to be a NASA intern. This experience inspires me every day in continuing to be a part of NASA and explore planet Earth and beyond. Finally, to all the people who are chasing their dreams, I would like to state “If you really want something, you’re going to have to work hard, you’ll have to take advantage of every opportunity but don’t give up” – a quote from my role model, Dr. Jane Goodall. 

What is your role on your current project?

My task in the current project is to build a standardized analysis package with my co-intern and mentors by implementing data analysis and data visualizations. The purpose of this package is to help Science Mission Directorate staff track their program statistics.

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

My project ties into one of NASA’s core values, “inclusion”. The end product will help understand the importance of inclusion of all genders in the scientific community.

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

Two student organizations that helped me develop in my STEM journey are Stanford University’s “Code in Place” Program and NASA Lucy Student Pipeline Accelerator and Competency Enabler Academy. I learned the fundamentals of programming in Python from professors at Stanford University and by collaborating with students from all over the world. As a student at NASA L’SPACE Academy, I learnt the principles of science, research, engineering and writing that go behind building a NASA mission. I also learnt the importance of teamwork.

How do you feel interning during #CountdownToMars?!

I feel over the moon to be interning at NASA during #CountdownToMars. It isn’t every semester that we send a rover to Mars and to be a part of NASA during this time is a rare privilege. This is an experience of a lifetime. I am so excited to watch the Mars Perseverance landing on February 18 as a NASA intern. I am happy that many years from now, I can tell the younger generation, “ I was a NASA intern during the count down to Mars!!”

Provide a quote about how you feel about your role at NASA.

It is very critical that women are supported in STEM because inclusion is important to be innovative and do great things together. The more minds we bring together, the more success we will all achieve together. We are all citizens of this planet and it is together that we can tackle challenges, discover new things and see prosperity. I want women to believe in themselves because I want them to see their potential to be great and that they too can reach for the stars.

It’s never too late for a career change, non-traditional intern speaks about her journey to NASA

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 Sarah Smith. Sarah is an intern at Johnson Space Center and a recent graduate of the University of Washington Tacoma where she majored in Communication. 

Meet Sarah Smith. An intern at NASA's Johnson Space Center.
Credits: Sarah Smith.

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

I’m a non-traditional student who returned to school later in life to change career paths, as well as finally finish my degree. My undergraduate experience was awesome and nothing short of life changing. As a student at the University of Washington Tacoma, I found my calling in science communication and media production. With the encouragement of two of my amazing professors, Bill Kunz and Cheryl Greengrove, I took on a research project to create a documentary with the UW School of Oceanography about building the Regional Cabled Observatory, part of the Ocean Observatories Initiative. As I looked toward graduation in December 2020, I wanted to find opportunities that would help me continue to learn and grow while also utilizing my skillset to contribute to something bigger than myself. I never thought I’d be working at NASA, but when I came across the opportunity to apply to be an intern, I jumped at it. I feel so lucky now to be in this position as a STEM on Station intern, and to be doing what I love – storytelling, media creation, and communicating about science and the NASA mission. I’ve already learned so much and feel so supported and valued by my STEM on Station team. This internship is truly a dream come true!

What is your role on your current project?

STEM on Station intern – communications support.

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

STEM education and engaging students around the country in NASA missions and programs, specifically through STEMonstrations, SPOCS, Downlinks. 

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

I try to attend as many online events as I can to get to know others, and make sure to introduce myself to other interns and NASA employees whenever possible so they can also get to know me. I’ve connected with a few interns so far who are also non-traditional students or recent graduates, and we’ve chatted over coffee a couple times to get to know each other a bit better and begin to build a network. I also attend the “Coffee with Coordinators” meetings whenever possible to stay connected!

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

Working on campus, volunteering and taking advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow outside of the classroom is so important as an undergraduate student. While not a student organization, I worked a student job in the Advancement office on campus and hosted the school’s podcast. I learned so much in this position, and had the opportunity to conduct interviews on such interesting topics! Also, taking on an undergrad research documentary video project led to some incredible growth as a STEM communicator. It provided some really exciting out-of-the-box opportunities to learn about how technology is advancing ocean science and exploration. 

How do you feel interning during #CountdownToMars?!

It’s super exciting! I have two teenage daughters and it feels extra special to share the #CountdownToMars with them as well. We’re all looking forward to tuning in next week to watch the landing.

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.

Living the Dream at NASA

By Vanessa Rincon
International Education Week 2019 Edition

Meet Ty-Chris Beasley who is a college senior studying accounting at Langston University in Langston, OK.

As a kid growing up in the small town of Muskogee, Okla., I believed there were only two career options at NASA: be an astronaut or a rocket scientist. Neither of which an Okie from Muskogee would fit that mold, so I thought. But I was mistaken. Because here I am, a NASA intern and soon to be a full time employee.

NASA has allowed me to have fantastic mentors, support the future Artemis – to the moon — mission, and given me the opportunity to network with peers from all walks of life. Most importantly, NASA has given me the privilege to engage the community and inspire minority youth about STEM. I truly felt as if I was living the dream.

I am a recent graduate of Langston University, a Historically Black College in Oklahoma with bachelors in accounting and an associate’s in financial planning. Because of Langston University’s partnership with NASA, I made history in 2017 being the first student from Langston School of Business to receive an internship from NASA. During my tenure at Johnson Space Center in Houston, I have been able to complete five internship tours and work on a multitude of different projects. My projects have included everything from working with procurement (buying stuff) to now public engagement (taking the message to the community).

During my first internship, I worked in JSC’s Gilruth fitness center as a business management intern. For my second, I worked in the Chief Information Office (CIO) as the first ever business integrator helping support the CIO and Chief Financial Office. On my third, I worked in the Office of STEM Engagement working with the Houston Independent School District (HISD) working with underrepresented students and cultivating a stronger relationship between NASA and HISD. For my fourth, I had the honor to help coordinate special events for the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo lunar landing. I got to engage with millions of people from all over the world as I helped with our special events, promotions and, also, JSC internal celebrations. I was able to network with every organization and many public figures such as NASA legend Apollo 11 flight director Gene Kranz, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee and many others.

JSC intern Ty-Chris meets former NASA Flight Director Gene Kratz.

Presently, I’m an External Relations Office (ERO) intern, still in the office of STEM Engagement, continuing working with HISD to maintain and sustain the partnership our team built.  The partnership focuses on innovative educational methods and uses best practices that promote the advancement of knowledge and skills toward STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers, with a goal to help HISD increase the academic achievement rates in STEM. Our hope is to increase industry, university, and community partnerships which will support and enhance the aerospace themes in HISD.

I never imagined myself working in a STEM career field, but I understand the importance and need for STEM engagement, especially with students in underserved communities. I am a firm believer that what happens outside the gates of NASA reflects what goes on inside NASA. By engaging with the public, we can show people all the amazing things we have accomplished at NASA and will continue to do now and in the future — like returning to the Moon in 2024.

Ty-Chris is currently interning in JSC’s External Relations Office and Office of STEM Engagement.

My mission at HISD was to show students, especially students of color, that it’s possible to work at NASA and aerospace industries by offering them experiences and opportunities. One of the challenges I faced was finding different ways to relate STEM that would resonate with the students in terms they could understand. I met this challenge through multiple STEM days, including a virtual reality show of the International Space Station and by including other NASA interns, subject matter experts, and former astronauts.

Even though I’m not a rocket scientist or an astronaut, NASA has allowed an Okie from Muskogee to engage, connect, and inspire youth and to gain aerospace experience by helping students find passion in STEM.  I want future generations to know no matter what your background you have the ability to do amazing work for one of the most exciting organizations…NASA.

For me “living the dream” is not working at NASA, but helping improve the world one student at a time.

Are you interested in STEM engagement? Consider applying to a NASA internship! You can find Summer 2020 intern projects at intern.nasa.gov. The Summer 2020 application deadline is March 8, 2020. Start your intern journey today! #NASAinterns

One giant leap from football to NASA

By Vanessa Rincon
International Education Week 2019 Edition

Meet Callan Cranenburgh who is a master’s student majoring in aerospace engineering at the University of Sydney, Australia.

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.

At the 2014 WAFL Grand Final, Callan won a colts premiership with Swan Districts Football Club. Credit: Groc Photography.

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.

Callan is an intern at Ames Research Center’s Fluid Mechanics Laboratory.

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.

Callan is an intern through NASA’s International Internship (I^2) Program, where Australia’s Victorian Space Science Education Center (VSSEC) is a current partner.

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.

Are you an international student? Consider learning more about the NASA International Internship program at https://www.nasa.gov/stem/international-internships-for-students.html. Visit intern.nasa.gov to learn more about other NASA internship programs. Start your intern journey today! #NASAinterns #InternationalEducationWeek

Working at NASA: An experience that creates your future

By Vanessa Rincon
National STEM Day 2019 Edition

Meet Pablo Antonio Ramirez Santiago who graduated with a double major degree in Public Relations & Advertising and Marketing Management from the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus.

My experience at NASA has truly been unique, shaping me into who I am and teaching me a variety of different things on a daily basis. Right now, I don’t really have a single project, as I’m helping with many of them. I currently work as a Spanish journalism, multimedia, and social media intern, helping with the Spanish science communications at NASA. This doesn’t just have to do with the translations of the different missions, but also the Live Shots programs and other projects that involve the Hispanic community.

Pablo is a three-time intern at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

This was not always easy for me. One of the biggest challenges throughout my three internships here at Goddard was being able to communicate in English, coming from a place where my first language was Spanish. Coming to Goddard, everything around me was in English, and it was my first time working in a place in which everything was in a completely different language. However, I was able to create content in Spanish, even though my relationships, communications, and interactions with other coworkers are completely based upon my knowledge of the English language. This was truly a goal for me, and it started out as a challenge, but I ended up working hard because of how I wanted to be able to communicate effectively in both languages.

Pablo and his mentor receive the Star Award in the Functional Services Division at GSFC for their project.

I began here by participating in the summer poster session, which is a project that is meant to expand NASA’s science communications in Spanish. This project was based upon research that my co-mentor, Maria-Jose, worked on in 2011, and throughout the summer of 2018, we worked on finding funding for this project. We were able to start a proposal that created a pilot project that helped centralize the NASA Spanish communications, and were able to focus on a business structure that was feasible enough to where we could find the money needed to fund it. At this point, my mentor and co-mentor worked closely with me, allowing for me to win the Star Award in the Functional Services Division here at Goddard, then allowing for the project to be approved in April of 2019. All of this eventually led up to me taking my fall internship, and I have continued to put effort into my projects to truly make things come true for me.

Pablo’s project entails expanding NASA’s science communications in Spanish.

One of the greatest things that I continue to learn from my mentor and co-mentor, as well as subject matter experts, is how communications are consistently evolving and being reinvented. These are people who are always open to help me and push for me to improve, and they show me that it is worth it to be perseverant on what I want to accomplish and obtain.

Visiting a NASA center for the first time when I was 11 years old, I felt that I would never be able to find a place here because of how my interests were not aligned neither with science nor with engineering. I quickly discovered in college that this was wrong, and that the company did match my professional interests, pushing for me to apply for my internship. Eventually, I was contacted about an opportunity in which the agency was seeking someone who spoke Spanish, and from that point onwards, I have worked to where I am currently in my third internship with NASA, hoping to someday work for NASA professionally. My advice to future interns is: Believe in yourself and try new experiences! Sometimes you are going to feel desperate because you don’t know where you fit. But these experiences help you discover what things you like the most and where you see yourself in the future.

Are you interested in STEM communication? Consider applying to a NASA internship! You can find Summer 2020 intern projects at intern.nasa.gov. The Summer 2020 application deadline is March 8, 2020. Start your intern journey today! #NASAinterns #NationalSTEMDay

From Drawing To Telling the Stories of Space

From a very young age, Tamsyn has enjoyed drawing the solar system.

I’ve always dreamed of becoming an astronaut. As a kid, I loved to make crayon drawings of the solar system. My pictures always had to be accurate: I never forgot the asteroid belt, Uranus’ tilted rings, and Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. I loved the thought of a huge, mysterious universe — to be honest, I still do.

But if I’m being really honest, the process of becoming a bona fide space cadet isn’t a journey that I was ever prepared for or even willing to take. I’m very nearsighted. I have a largely unacknowledged fear of heights. I don’t want to major in engineering, hard science, or math. I also can’t do a pull-up.

I still fantasize, though, about seeing spaceship Earth hanging alone against a backdrop of a darkness punctured delicately by stars. I wonder about what it would be like to let Martian dust slip through the fingers of my spacesuit glove. I think about leaving my footprints on the Moon.

Over a decade after I stopped using crayons, 16-year-old Tamsyn got a position working in the Zukin lab at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, NY. As part of a high school class, I’d complete a short-term experiment under the supervision of professional scientists and write a brief paper about it. Over the course of a summer, I removed mouse hippocampi and conducted Western blot analyses on those tiny slivers of brain tissue. What I found to be the best part of the entire experience, though, was writing about the cellular mechanisms behind neuronal death as a result of stroke. I wanted to advance the field (if ever so slightly), but more importantly, the public deserved to know the work being done to ultimately benefit humans.

My passion for science is only outdone by my urge to tell people about it. During my crayon solar system era, I used to proudly recite the names of the planets (going in order from closest to farthest from the Sun and defiantly including Pluto even past its demotion) to anyone who would listen. In the first weeks of my junior year of high school, I worked diligently on my neuroscience paper in the hopes that it’d resonate with my classmates. The next summer I worked again at a lab — the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine — but now my job was to write about science full-time for the lab’s website. I was thrilled to reach a much larger audience than my classmates. By my senior year of high school, I knew what I wanted to do.

Tamsyn Brann is a rising junior at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Science, Technology, and Society

I’m a rising junior at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Science, Technology, and Society. I know that STS as a course of study sounds pretty vague, but I’m using that to my advantage: I can craft my specific focus as a writer by choosing classes where I could practice communicating science in an educational setting. I can tell you about the scientific legacy of Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection — if you genuinely want to hear about the potential Lamarckism of epigenetics and whether genes really are “selfish.” I could talk for hours about detecting biosignatures on exoplanets and what to do once we’ve found them. At school and outside, my encounters with science taught me intellectual fearlessness and a desire to question. When science is communicated, society can absorb the information and advance.

I look forward to focusing my future more specifically toward communicating the astronomy I’ve always loved, and at NASA Goddard, I can do exactly that. The opportunity to interview the very people behind cutting-edge space science is an enormous privilege. Writing about the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter brings me to the Moon (where I hope to see humankind walk in my lifetime, even if I can’t). I’ll visit Jupiter’s Trojan Asteroids as I research the 2021 Lucy mission. I can soar past the boundaries of the solar system interviewing scientists specializing in exoplanets. Though being an astronaut may not be my calling, science storytelling is.

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

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