NASA Goddard's first virtual interns reflect on their summer experience
by Emily Fischer and Kathleen Gaeta for GSFC News
Greenbelt MD (SPX) Sep 10, 2020
When many NASA employees transitioned to a mandatory work-from-home status in March 2020, because of COVID-19, the agency prepared to launch its first-ever fully virtual internship to ensure students would still have a summer learning opportunity. Interns who successfully worked for NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, shared their experiences.
"Interning at NASA puts me ahead of some of my friends in the same field," said Noah Sandler, a software engineering intern and rising sophomore at the University of Maryland, College Park. "It's been a privilege to have this experience early on in my life."
In the past, NASA visualized a virtual or hybrid format for internships to expand reach in diversity and inclusion, allowing students to intern who otherwise would not have the opportunity. This summer provided the chance to implement a virtual program, which could be a step toward virtual or hybrid internships in the future.
NASA prioritized accessibility when moving online. NASA shipped interns laptops with pre-installed software, while online video meetings helped teams and mentors stay connected virtually.
"Using messaging and video conferencing has been nice because you can still communicate with your mentor really easily, so everything is really accessible in that way," said Scout Crooke, third-year intern at Goddard and rising freshman at Haverford College in Haverford, Pennsylvania.
Crooke worked three different internship positions over her time at NASA, each in a different branch, a common experience among NASA Goddard interns.
Stephanie Introne, from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, interned at NASA Goddard four times, and this is her second year with the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope team."Working with NASA these past couple summers has been some of the most meaningful work I've had to do with my mechanical engineering degree so far," Introne said.
"This experience is unique because NASA tries to expose you to a lot of educational opportunities. I really appreciate that there's a focus on not just doing your work for them, but also trying to expand your own learning."
Myah Rather dove headfirst into her first summer internship at NASA last year, measuring formaldehyde in homes and ambient air. At the end of last summer, she gave a speech thanking the program and her mentor for the internship opportunity.
Following her presentation, Wade Sisler, executive producer for NASA Goddard's Office of Communications, congratulated her for the courage to speak in front of her peers and supervisors and asked her to apply as a communications intern this summer. For her second round, she worked on social media outreach, collaborating with content creators and expanding NASA's online audience.
"Facing my fears and speaking in front of people got me to where I am now," Rather said. "Communication is one of the most important things, so it's been a good time to work on that."
The tenacity of this year's summer interns impressed Sarah Alspaw, NASA intern program coordinator. She said they challenged themselves by searching for additional projects, innovative solutions, and more opportunities to work together in a virtual environment. "It shows their resilience - their willingness to go above and beyond into an environment like this and still get a lot out of it," said Alspaw.
"At the forefront of innovation, NASA operates on the cutting edge, and NASA interns are no different," said Raquel Marshall, program manager for NASA's education initiatives. "They have the willingness to push the envelope and develop resourceful solutions. Mentors, leaders in their field, stand ready to delegate projects and cultivate learning."
"From a mentor and organizational perspective, we get fresh ideas," Marshall said. "To get those fresh ideas and innovation and creativity infused into the work that we're doing on a day-to-day basis, that's the value of the intern program."
Working online also provided more options for collaboration among centers. Interns from Goddard joined presentations from other centers, such as NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., over Microsoft Teams and Cisco WebEx.
"Interns at NASA can use their experience to validate their studies and build experience in their field," Marshall said. "The networks they develop and techniques they learn will last beyond the end of their internship."
Spring 2021 and Summer 2021 internship applications are open online. Mentors are actively updating their projects to reflect if they are virtual or on-center. For more information about NASA's internships and access to online applications, go here
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Washington DC (SPX) Aug 24, 2020
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