My journey from NASA Competition Team Leader to NASA Internship
By the end of my sophomore year, I had a 3.66 GPA and was involved in activities on campus, but I had no engineering work experience. In my mind, it was highly unlikely that I’d end up with an internship, much less one at NASA.
Creating the team
At the beginning of the 2018-19 academic year, a peer and I started the Texas A&M NASA Spacesuit User Interface Technologies for Students (SUITS) competition team. The first part of this NASA competition challenges students to develop ideas for a user interface they would create if chosen to attend test week. We got to work drafting a 40-page proposal with technical details on how we would make an interface on the Microsoft HoloLens 1.
Ultimately, these designs would feed into how to better instruct and supplement astronauts on extravehicular activities in missions. We constructed a plan for outreach as part of the requirements for the competition. This consisted of lesson plans, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards to implement, and various program ideas to engage students and educators.
NASA must have liked our innovative ideas, since we were chosen to attend test week at NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) in April 2019! Building the user interface, testing and community engagement became a huge time commitment. Ultimately, we would create an organization to receive funding and more members. Each of the members received technical training on how to build a user interface on Unity and take part in the research process. These technical skills then became aligned with communication skills as the team presented at design reviews and wrote research papers.
As a founder of the organization, I helped facilitate meetings and worked with administrators to get members completing research class credit for their commitment to the team. I have watched members and myself grow as engineers and people.
As you can imagine, when our team attended test week in April 2019, it was such an exciting time! We met 11 other university teams from across the nation and collaborated with them throughout the week. We got to hear presentations from NASA personnel on current missions, as well as take part in opportunities for students. What I did not expect was the amount of gratitude that competition coordinators had for our contributions to the current projects at NASA. It was constantly reiterated that we, simple college students, were making a difference in future technology implementations. We worked on the space vehicle mockup facility floor and each university team got several NASA personnel to serve as test subjects and mentors for the team. Our team was lucky enough to get an extravehicular activity astronaut trainer as a subject to give us even better feedback for our design.
Put yourself out there!
The NASA JSC intern program coordinator gave a presentation just for SUITS participants. Knowing I already applied, I approached her and asked questions specific to the term I applied for. She mentioned most of the offers had gone out but to email her with my list to tell me their status. A few exchanges later, she wished me good luck in my internship ventures and I thought it was over. Less than a month later, I got a call for an interview from the lady who had recognized my name and passed it on. Shortly after, I started as a Mission Analysis intern for the Artemis missions at NASA JSC. I attribute my offer to the SUITS competition networking, as well as the ability to gain worthy skills from being on the team.
Many students are not aware that NASA has many competitions for which students can partake. These are also great networking opportunities to throw your name in the hat since you never know whose eye you’ll catch. In the majority of these, you will be directly contributing to a current NASA objective, so these are not just college contests.
The College of Engineering has a Career Center that will offer students advice on resumes, job searches, and the industry. Schedule a visit and see what the Career Center can do for you.