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.

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.

From studying engineering to working on rovers that will land on other planets

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.  Karen Mae Baldonado. Karen is an intern at NASA’s Langley Research Center and a senior at the City College of New York where she studies Mechanical Engineering. 

Meet Karen Mae Baldonado, an intern at NASA's Langley Research Center.
Credits: Karen Mae Baldonado.

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

Throughout my academic career, I wasn’t sure what sector I wanted to go into after college. I was always interested in space as a kid, but as I got older it seemed like having a career in space was out of reach. I didn’t know any women in the space sector, let alone any women in engineering careers. As I was looking for internships in my senior year of Mechanical Engineering, with no prior internship or even job experience, I decided to take a chance and apply to NASA, not expecting anything but knowing I tried. I was surprised to end up with offers to two different NASA internships! I work everyday in school and in my NASA internship to make sure the work I am doing is the best possible work I can do, for NASA and the communities I represent- women in STEM, my school the City College of New York, and women of color. More than anything I want more women in STEM and more women in NASA. I want to make sure by excelling in my engineering major and interning at NASA, that not only do I create a path for younger women to follow, but that there will be younger women to follow. I want more women in STEM to see their worth and go after what they really want, like I did.

What is your role on your current project?

I study Entry, Descent, and Landing on different planetary bodies for entry vehicles, focusing on a rover that uses tensegrity. This rover is designed by my mentor and team. For EDL, I conduct different simulations to examine the system analyses of the rover. My work focuses especially on Titan and Mars.

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

My work for this project is able to determine different system modules for Entry, Descent, and Landing on any planetary body. It can be applied to the Moon or Mars. For my project, one of the planets I focus especially on is Mars. Furthermore, a rover that uses tensegrity is ideal for entering planetary bodies with higher risks, such as a rougher surface or atmospheric conditions that aren’t ideal, as the design of the rover allows any way of landing to be an optimal position. The rover is able to adjust itself to any surface, able to go over big craters for example, and thus is a possible rover for future missions to further planetary bodies or the Moon and Mars. 

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

I joined PAXC on Discord and Teams and enjoy learning about others through the discussions on Discord. I also join the Networking sessions hosted by Langley Research Center’s Intern Coordinators.

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

The Society of Women Engineers in my school City College of New York played a big role in my STEM journey. Their meetings contain a lot of valuable lessons and information. Their greatest contribution to my STEM journey is their meetings where they brought people who have worked or work with NASA. I’ve learned from past NASA interns and current NASA employees. Hearing about their stories is what pushed me to apply to NASA in the first place. Being around other women engineers with big aspirations also greatly contributed to my STEM journey. My school’s American Society of Mechanical Engineering club also greatly helped me develop professionally in my STEM journey. ASME has taught me not only about Solidworks and Computational Fluid Dynamics lessons that I haven’t learned in class, but also the “how-to’s” of internships, interviews, and jobs. Their lessons were especially helpful for my NASA applications and interview!

How do you feel interning during #CountdownToMars?!

Interning during the #CountdownToMars has brought an experience I couldn’t get elsewhere. I’m not just someone who happens to be alive during this event, but I’m someone who actually gets to hear from the people who worked on Perseverance and NASA directly. NASA has held events for their interns to learn about the work put into Perseverance. I’m getting a chance I couldn’t get elsewhere or at any other time and I’m extremely grateful for that!

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

At NASA, I feel like I belong regardless of my identity. I know I’m here because of what I have achieved and because of my passion to work at NASA. The work I am doing is important and is not just busywork. At NASA, I’m learning so much from my project but also by asking questions, never feeling scared to show I don’t know something. One of my greatest hopes is that my work here as an intern will inspire younger women to go towards a career in STEM.

Well, This Is Incredibly Incovenient

By Missy Matthias

Kyler Li attends the University of Pennsylvania and is an intern at NASA’s Stennis Space Center. Photo courtesy of Kyler Li.

Nothing Motivates Like the Last Minute

I found out about my internship offer while I was in the midst of packing up to leave my university for summer break and finishing up the last of my finals. I only had a handful of weeks to figure out where I would be staying, how I would be getting to work, and how I would manage to survive 10 weeks in the South all on my own.

I Think I May Be Homeless!

By this time, a lot of interns had found their roommates, carpools, and many living spaces in the area were full. I remember desperately calling apartments as soon as they opened for business in the morning and writing emails to potential landlords right before I boarded my plane home.

Rental Cars Are Not An Option

Because of my age, I would not be able to rent a car in the area and frantically reached out to every intern I could to ask about possible carpools. I dipped into my savings to figure out my plane ticket to Mississippi and made an Excel worksheet to calculate all my expenses. I had never really been to the South and had no idea what to expect.

No Bed, No Car, No Problem

It was like moving into college all over again, but I had no information, no idea of what to do, and a looming deadline that was rapidly approaching. At one point, I was afraid I would land in Mississippi and be completely homeless, without a ride, and miles away from work. Luckily, a room with a Stennis employee opened up at the last minute. However, as I laid in my bed the night before my internship started, I still had no ride and feared that I would have no choice but to leave my internship before the first day. My housemate even suggested that I should start looking at plane tickets to go back home.

Don’t Tell Me I Can’t!

I didn’t know what I was going to do or how I was going to get to the Stennis Space Center, but I was determined to make it there the first day and set foot into NASA. I did not travel 2,286 miles to quit my journey before it had even begun.

You Will Figure It Out

I am incredibly fortunate that Stennis has the best interns and grateful that so many people offered to help after I shared my plight on the first day. Before lunch, I had a carpool set in place and several new friends who offered to go out of their way to make sure I would be able to make it to work every day. Every time we make weekend plans or after work outings, someone always offers me a ride to make sure I won’t be excluded if I want to go. I am very appreciative that everything worked out for me and I can’t wait to see how the rest of this internship will go!

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

From Air and Space to L’SPACE – How I Came to NASA

woman in front of signs, flags
Daleen Torres arrives at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in June 2019. Photo Courtesy Daleen Torres

My name is Daleen M. Torres and I study Mechanical Engineering at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus. NASA has always been one of those places where I never thought I would work. I originally wanted to work in the biomedical industry, but when I visited the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, a tiny spark lit up in me. My best friend who was with me at the time could tell that I was all starry-eyed and amazed when I saw the spacecraft and airplanes. This was where my initial interest for aerospace came.

In my Freshman year, I quickly sought out opportunities in aerospace-related internships and projects. As a volunteer in the Aerodesign Team, a group dedicated to designing and manufacturing radio controlled airplanes; I was able to learn more about aerospace and the importance of teamwork. However, I still wanted to explore the space aspect of the aerospace industry. After participating in the Aerodesign competition in California, it was difficult to keep up with the emails sent to my university email. I had to catch up with my classes I had missed out on. When I saw that an employee from NASA was requesting resumes from students via email, I got excited. Unfortunately, it was already too late to send out my resume. The deadline had passed. Regardless of that, I still sent out the resume. I did not get the opportunity to go to NASA at that time.

In my Sophomore year, after a long day at my university, I saw this flyer that talked about this cool space program called Lucy Pipeline Accelerator and Competency Enabler (L’SPACE Academy). It’s a 12-week NASA online program where scientists and engineers teach undergrad students mission procedures that are later used to solve a mission-related design challenge. After being accepted in the program, I was assigned to a team which I led as the project manager. The program motivated me to reach out to NASA again by applying for a summer internship. About three days later, the same NASA employee I had sent my resume to in my freshman year called to set up an interview. It was 8:00 pm and I was sitting by the tv, watching Netflix. I almost dropped my phone when he said he was from NASA.

I am now a NASA Intern at the Goddard Space Flight Center. It has been a dream come true. One of my favorite aspects of Goddard hat I get to see on a daily basis is diversity and inclusion. Most of the people in the team that I work in are female scientists. It’s amazing to see how much the female presence in the scientific community has increased over the years. Some decades ago, this did not happen. Everywhere I go, I get to see people from different cultures. I have met people from France, Spain, Jamaica, Korea, Africa, and much more.

The project that I am working on is called Light Field Microscopy for Future Space Missions. It will serve to make geochronology (the science for age dating of rocks, minerals, stones, and fossils) experiments of different planets within the Solar System. This would permit geologists to improve current knowledge of the planets. As an engineering student, I will help develop the K-Ar (Potassium to Argon) Laser Experiment (KArLE). It measures the age of rocks by obtaining the amount of atoms of Potassium and Argon in the sample. In other words, KArLE uses K-Ar dating. Optimizing the measurements of the volume of pits in samples by researching different flight-proven methods would enable KArLE to be more precise.

So far, everyday at NASA has been unique. After passing through the security entrances, I get to an office, read emails and plan out my day. I set up meetings if necessary and jot down any activity or presentation at GSFC that catches my eye. Then, I head down to a lab where I get to work with this cool Lytro camera that uses light field technology to map out the depth values in a picture. I also get to work with two different microscopes. Occasionally, I participate in different activities available for interns and employees.

Gabriel Almeida: Helping SOFIA Soar at NASA Armstrong

NASA intern Gabriel Almeida understands that learning new skills is the key to success. With what he’s gained while working on the Strategic Observatory For Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, there’s no doubt that he’ll soar.

As a college student, sometimes it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. As a student at California State University San Bernardino, working towards a degree in Computer Engineering and a minor in Physics, it took an inspiring experience to be reminded that it would all be worth it in the end. For me, my inspiration came in the form of an engineering internship on the SOFIA project at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center.

SOFIA, or the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, is a 747 airplane that contains a large infrared telescope located towards the rear of the aircraft. The passenger cabin of the airplane has been converted into what is essentially a flying laboratory, with workstations for the telescope operators, mission directors, scientific instrument engineers, and the many other roles that each mission may require.

Working on SOFIA is a unique learning opportunity because it is a program that is the intersection of so many complicated and exhilarating areas of study. Being a scientific airplane, there are aspects of aeronautics, computer science, astronomy, physics, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering. Seeing how all these systems work together is a testament to the hard work and ingenuity of the many engineers and scientists who have contributed to the success of the program.

My internship with NASA has given me a priceless opportunity to work and learn alongside extremely intelligent scientists and engineers using real-world knowledge that will help me better understand the skills I will need to be successful in my professional career. My mentor, Matthew Enga, is the SOFIA System Integration and Test Lead Engineer, and has expansive knowledge of the SOFIA subsystems. In addition to the projects he assigned to me, he also allowed me to dive head-first into many different opportunities that only NASA Armstrong can provide. There are so many tasks I could include in this article, but I will just provide some of the highlights:

  • Software Analysis- I have been able to continue to expand my software skills doing analysis of SOFIA archiver extraction software.
  • Categorization of system hardware- I have spent many hours researching and categorizing boxes of flight and non-flight hardware, learning about how each piece of equipment is either used in flight systems or testing of those systems.
  • Armstrong University classes- NASA Armstrong has created a university-style set of classes covering a broad range of subject matter that are available to all NASA Armstrong employees; qualified working professionals in several different fields of expertise at NASA have created courses that help create a work environment which encourages competency, succession, innovation, and job retention (Airworthiness 101, Research and Engineering, Communicating to Connect, and Leadership Principles).
  • Certification courses- I have attended approximately 48 hours of lab instruction to obtain certificates in soldered electrical connections and surface mounted soldering.
  • Increased exposure to NASA and other related aerospace facilities- In addition to an in-depth, behind the scenes walkthrough of the NASA Armstrong facility, the intern coordinator for Armstrong is constantly organizing guided tours and site-seeing opportunities of several industry-related facilities including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, NASA Armstrong’s offsite facility, and the Space Company.
  • Onboard flight observations- I am currently on track to fly on one of the SOFIA science missions. I will have a rare opportunity to watch NASA and DLR scientists in action as they perform the many different tasks that contribute to a successful flight onboard SOFIA.

All of these experiences have successfully immersed me into an environment where I am constantly surrounded by engineers, scientists, and other industry professionals that are working on the frontlines of innovation in aeronautics and aerospace.

I believe that one’s experiences are ultimately shaped by the attitude in which they approach them. With that mindset, I was willing to do whatever it took to be an intern with NASA. I knew that whatever task I was assigned, no matter how uncomfortable or tedious it may have seemed at first, was something that would I could learn from and would ultimately enhance my skill and knowledge level. Most importantly, being at NASA has helped me to put my education in perspective. Because of this experience, I see that personal success will not ultimately be measured by my GPA, but rather the problem-solving skills I have learned and the mentality I need when faced with adversity.