On my second "first day" as an intern at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, I
felt a very different kind of nervousness from my first internship,
last summer. I still had butterflies, and I didn't know what my team
would be like, but I also felt very comfortable with what I was about to
encounter -- even the long daily commute from Orange County. As I sat
through student orientation, I once again found myself thinking about
how I got here, and I'm still in disbelief! Two years ago, I was sitting
in my algebra class at Santa Ana College, a digital arts major, when I
learned about my school's Bridge to Engineering Program (B2E). The rapid
evolution of computers and the amazing things that technology makes
possible have always astounded me. I love art, but I decided I wanted to
use my artistic abilities to create something that was useful and
innovative, as well as attractive. Through the B2E program, I saw the
opportunity to choose a major that I originally thought would be too
difficult to take on as a returning student (who had been away from
school for over 10 years) a wife, and mother of two. So I changed my
major to software engineering.
B2E provides a lot of support that will allow me to fulfill the math courses I require to transfer to a four-year-university as a software engineering major. And it was through B2E that I learned about the opportunity to apply for a robotics internship with JPL's Minority Student Programs in 2013 -- even though I was only starting my freshman year as a software engineering major. Last summer, my assignment was to help test an extreme-terrain rover prototype called Axel. With my team and my mentor, Issa Nesnas, I developed test plans for the rover; I designed and constructed dust barriers for its three on-board cameras (the cone-shaped barrier alleviated potential glitches with video transmissions); and, I helped conduct remote tests of the rover, driving it "blindly" (using only the rover's images and telemetry to direct it) down the hills above JPL.
Driving the Axel rover was one of the most exciting and at the same time nerve-wracking things I have ever done. Just imagine: You're only a freshman, this is your first internship, and your mentor says to you, "Here, drive this rover, worth thousands of dollars, blindly down the slopes and through the trees. Just make sure you don't break it." Pretty awesome, right? I must have done OK, because my internship was extended. It was one of the most rewarding, exciting and exhausting things I have ever done.
After I finished my internship, I confirmed that software was what I wanted to do. I also wanted to learn more about everything I did over the summer, so I took my first robotics class when I returned to school.
My experience at JPL was so incredible that without thinking about the long commute, I decided to apply again. And I feel very fortunate to be here two years in a row, just as excited as the first time, absorbing everything I possibly can from everyone I meet and everything I see. I'm in the robotics section again, this time working with quadrotors alongside my mentor, Roland Brockers. My teammates and I are producing materials for a research video and designing a graphical user interface (i.e., a way for humans to interact with a computer system) for micro air vehicle (MAV) control. My team's dynamic this year is very different than the last. It's a bigger group. All the guys are great. They are all very smart, and I'm learning a lot from them.
What I've learned during both of my internships is that there is nothing like hands-on experience. Practice is crucial to learning programming; and, team work and a good group dynamic are vital to a project's success.
I still walk around JPL in awe, but it feels more and more familiar every day. I am still in junior college and most of the interns I've met are either seniors or recent graduates from prestigious four-year universities. Some might think it would be intimidating, but I feel lucky to be surrounded by such intelligent people -- people who I can learn from. My experience as a summer intern here has only reinforced my desire to continue with my education and tackle any obstacles that the journey brings to one day have a job that I love -- one that challenges me and teaches me something new every day. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this unforgettable experience and for the support I receive from my family to fulfill this incredible dream. It is amazing knowing that my sons associate everything space related to their mommy. I love that.
I was inspired to pursue planetary science through my mother in conjunction with my late father.
Losing my father at age 2, it was obviously difficult for a single mother raising two young girls. One night, in sort of disciplinary action for something I had done, my mother took me out back. Pointing up, she said that the brightest star in the sky was my father looking down on me -- for all the good and the bad that I would do. Since then, I never stopped looking up.
Little did she know that her disciplinary action would cost her later in life as I begged (and received) my first telescope at the age of twelve affirming my love of space.
When I graduated from college in 2005, I decided to go into the game industry and ended up at my dream job as a software engineer at Nintendo outside of Seattle. I loved it there -- I was working for a company that I loved, and the work was rewarding and interesting.
A few years later, I left the company to work on some solo projects in the game industry. It was about this time that I picked up a copy of Carl Sagan's Cosmos, almost on a whim, as leisure reading for a plane ride. I instantly found myself transfixed by its message, and my jaw literally dropped as I realized that I wanted to do something different with my life: to promote the cause of human exploration of space.
From that point on, I worked toward this goal, even though my experience up to that point had been in video games, and I had no aerospace background whatsoever. I got guidance from a number of mentors in the industry: Neil deGrasse Tyson at the American Museum of Natural History, Piet Hut at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, former astronaut Rusty Schweickart, and Tara Estlin here at JPL, among others.
I returned to Nintendo and kept working as a software engineer, but took night classes to get a masters degree in computer science and studied astronautics, astronomy, and mechanical engineering on the side. Eventually, I enrolled in the University of Washington's Masters of Aeronautics and Astronautics program, and I quit my job to become a full-time student and wholly dedicate myself to space exploration.
When I quit my job, I saved this screenshot from my "exit survey":
When I was 11, I came to JPL for the 2004 Open House, which was only a few months after the landing of Spirit and Opportunity.
My mom took me to a talk led by a woman who was in mission control during the landing of the rovers, and she played a video of the landing. The landing video and her enthusiasm were so inspiring, that I asked the woman during Q&A, "How do I get your job?" I talked with the woman afterward, and she told me to work hard, take every science class I could and to never give up.
In my 11-year-old mind, I somehow understood the importance of space exploration. From then on, I knew I wanted to be part of NASA missions, particularly for Mars, and so far, I think I'm heading in the right direction.
I was in middle school when I first came to JPL. I saw all the wonderful spacecraft models like Voyager and Cassini. I was inspired by these achievements.
But what inspired me the most was seeing the Curiosity Mars Rover being built in the clean room. I knew that one day I want to work at JPL. And interning at JPL is a first step to becoming a full-time employee here. JPL is what has inspired me to become an aerospace engineer.
I fell in love with physics in seventh grade when I learned about
Newton's laws of motion. In three beautifully simple yet completely
profound statements, Newton summed up so much about the macroscopic
And the idea that the ground pushes up on us just as we push down on it -- mind-blowing! I was hooked.
I was inspired by the Hubble Space Telescope. I was required to do a mini research project on the telescope. I was so inspired by NASA and space, that I knew that I wanted to make a positive impact.
When I learned about the Mars Exploration Rover mission, I was hooked. I had always had a passion for robots, and now my two inspirations were combined.
Now I am working on Mars 2020 and living my dream.
JPL intern Brooke Goree goes to new heights testing the dynamics of high-altitude parachutes for NASA's Orion spacecraft, designed to take astronauts to exciting new destinations.
Find out how one student's far-fetched dream landed her an internship at JPL. Astronomy intern Alyx Stevens shares what it's like to work at the leading center for robotic exploration of the solar system.