By Alexis Drake
In anticipation of upcoming launches, mission proposals and new discoveries, more than 750 students arrived this summer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, for internships and research opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The number is a record for JPL, which offers research opportunities to hundreds of students, ranging from high school to faculty, each summer and throughout the year.
Hailing from 16 countries and representing more than 40 majors, students filled the lab, hungry for knowledge, groundbreaking discoveries and an experience of a lifetime. Over the course of the summer, interns participate in projects like the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2, designed to study carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere, and the Mars 2020 mission, which aims to send a rover to Mars to search for signs of habitability and prepare for future human missions to the Red Planet.
Astronautical engineering major CJ Giovingo's combined passion for space and engineering attracted her to JPL. "I really love that space is always something new and provides a challenge," said the student from Maryland's Capitol College.
Working alongside mentor Tracy Van Houten on the Mars 2020 mission on flight system verification and validation, Giovingo has already made significant contributions in a short amount of time. "Astronautical engineering or any type of design that we're doing for space missions is unique; it's one of the reasons why I like JPL, because you're always having to try new things and think outside of the box, which I think is a really great challenge."
At JPL, interns have the ability to use what they are learning in school and apply that expertise on a day-to-day basis to real missions and research.
"Internships really motivate students to stay in a difficult discipline, like a STEM major," said Adrian Ponce, higher education manager for JPL's Education Office. "Why? Because they get to apply what they're learning in classes on real-world problems, and there are a lot of fun problems here that they work on."
Adds Giovingo, "It's not just about the work -- it's about the learning community."
Whether they are analyzing technical data or calibrating 3D printing materials, summer interns at JPL have the opportunity to be a part of projects that are at the forefront of innovation and technology.
University of Texas, Austin, doctoral student Emmanuel Onyegam is excited about assisting the materials development and manufacturing technology group in developing new technology for space missions. "They are making these sugar-cube-size satellites," said Onyegam. "So the idea is you will send these into space and release the satellites. They are so small, it's cheaper as opposed to the big size."
Many students who participate in JPL internships are prospective candidates for the "Early Career Hire" program, which seeks to bring in recent STEM graduates for full-time positions. This was true for computer science major and math minor, Lala Pashian, a former intern who was hired on as a full-time employee with the instrument software and science data systems operation section.
"The day I received the news, I couldn't believe it," said the recent Cal Poly Pomona graduate about learning she had been hired on full-time. "I was like, 'This is a dream!'"
For more information about JPL internships, check out: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/education/internships/
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throughout the summer.