Press Release

A Successful Mission: Marshall’s Summer Interns Go Virtual

By SpaceRef Editor
September 4, 2020
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The internship session at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and Michoud Assembly Facility looked a little different this summer. The COVID-19 global pandemic restricted access to work facilities, and schools across the country went virtual.

But even with on-site work limited, Marshall and Michoud still employed 100 summer interns who were able to complete their projects via telework from the safety of their own homes. Facilitating a virtual internship experience was no easy task, but that did not stop internship coordinators Kelsey Bickett and Maria Meador-Phillips in Marshall’s Office of STEM Engagement from getting it done.

“Transitioning to virtual internships on the fly was a major team effort, and we are so grateful to everyone who has helped keep the program going strong during this time,” Bickett said. “Internships involve so many different roles working together – protective services, IT, communications, resource analysts, administrative assistants, and, of course, wonderful project mentors. Thanks to all of these NASA employees, 100 students were able to have a life-changing experience this summer.”

This summer’s Marshall and Michoud intern group ranged from high school students through doctoral candidates, representing 64 institutions from 30 states, plus Puerto Rico, and working in 27 branches across all mission directorates. Twenty-four interns were funded through the Minority Undergraduate Research and Education Project, while 14 were funded by their state’s Space Grant Consortium.

“The summer session was successful, and I hope that the students enjoyed it as well,” Meador-Phillips said. “We are very thankful to everyone involved for being patient and understanding as we worked through this process.” 

NASA is supporting virtual internships this fall across all centers. Future intern sessions through NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement internships program are open for applicants here.

The Marshall Star interviewed four summer interns who worked in different organizations at Marshall to learn how their summer went, what work they accomplished and their plans for the future:

Darold Kelly Jr.

School: University of the District of Columbia
Major: Computer engineering
Interning with: Planning and Analysis Branch, International Space Station Payload Stowage

What are you working on this summer? My project uses robotic process automation driven by UiPath software in order to automate a very time-consuming and tedious, but necessary, part of the job of Stowage Note processing procedure. It is projected to save several hundred hours per year for the duration of the International Space Station Program (eight to 10-plus years). That accumulates to a savings of approximately $40,000 per year across the length of the program.

What are your plans after graduation? I plan to pursue a career in cybersecurity.

What has your experience working at NASA been like? My experience at NASA has been absolutely amazing! It is rare to find a healthy workplace that promotes my growth to the extent where I want to put my best foot forward.

Interesting fact: I recently started a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing the number of Black cybersecurity professionals. So far, we have over 900 members and have already grown into the largest Black-owned cybersecurity organizations in the world!

Talha Khan

School: University of Texas at San Antonio
Major: Computer engineering
Interning with: Earth Science

What are you working on this summer? I’ve had the chance to join NASA’s IMPACT Earth Science Phenomena Detection team. NASA collects satellite imagery on a number of hazardous earth phenomena, such as tropical storms, dust storms, volcanoes, and more. Detecting these kinds of hazardous events before their onset can be critical to mitigating the economic damages that come and can even save lives. Using satellite imagery, I’m creating a deep learning artificial intelligence model to automate the detection of dust storms in real time in order to alert weather forecasters, emergency managers, and citizens.

What are your plans after graduation? I plan to enter the industry and work as a deep learning engineer and also apply for a doctorate program in computer science and artificial intelligence. I’ve always wanted to be a leader. My dream career is to lead an organization like NASA or Google and to shape the agendas that will change the world of tomorrow. Even more so, I hope to someday create a startup of my own that can optimize the quality of life we hold today.

What has your experience working at NASA been like? Working at NASA has been absolutely incredible. Even as a virtual intern, I can feel the camaraderie, friendship, and family-like bond that everyone at NASA holds. When the mission scale is to reach the impossible, the most talented and brave individuals reveal themselves to the world. NASA’s community, outreach, and presence is filled with so much talent that it’s truly inspiring and humbling to be a part of the organization. I feel like I learn something new every day.

Interesting fact: I’m 6 feet, 7 inches tall; I used to want to play in the NBA!

Ruthie Hill

School: University of South Alabama
Major: Mechanical engineering
Interning with: Advanced Concepts Office

What are you working on this summer? I am organizing, analyzing, and assessing studies and projects completed in the Advanced Concepts Office. I compiled all the hardware used in an ACO study into an Excel workbook and organized it by its Technology Readiness Level and mechanical properties. Then, I researched other hardware on the market to compare to the selected components to see if there are more advanced options available that better suit the study objectives. Additionally, I updated the Human Lunar Exploration Spacecraft Summary Index, which is a large PowerPoint document that summarizes ACO Lunar Studies dating back to 1961. I created a summary of each recent lunar project and found trends in propulsion system data for each study.

What are your plans after graduation? I plan to pursue my master’s degree in aerospace engineering and to apply for a Pathways internship after I graduate. I wish to continue my career with NASA, hopefully testing and assembling hardware that will help take the first woman and the next man to the Moon and beyond.

What has your experience working at NASA been like? It has been nothing like I expected! I never imagined how nice and understanding everyone at NASA would be. I was initially intimidated by the vast amount of knowledge available to everyone at NASA because I thought my lack of experience would hinder me. But I have found that everyone here is encouraging and wants to see growth and development in everyone. I have learned something new every day, sometimes from my mentors and other interns, or sometimes from the many lectures available during lunchtime. I have enjoyed every moment of my internship and I hope to keep working for NASA in the future!

Extra credit: Music is my main hobby and I love to play piano, ukulele, and lots of percussion instruments! Drum set is my favorite, though, and I used to be the drummer for a band when I was in high school.

Morghan Graper

School: Albany State University in Georgia
Major: Mathematics
Interning with: Engineering Resources Management Office

What are you working on this summer? This summer, my fellow intern and I are working with Kisha Freed, Project and Engineering Collaborative Environment Project coordinator. Our project is examining and illustrating the collaborative environments within the engineering communities of practice. We are assessing the nature and likelihood of the teams to collaborate with one another, and illustrating that through diagrams and metrics. We are also promoting best practices for leaders and administrators to utilize for more effective collaboration.

What are your plans after graduation? As I just graduated in May, I have been looking into different fields to use my mathematics degree. Because of my love for working with numbers, my dream career would be working as a financial manager. Being a financial manager would allow me to express my two passions at once: working with numbers and helping people. It is also important for me to work for a company with great energy in the workplace, where my colleagues love their careers as much as I do.

What has your experience working at NASA been like? My experience at NASA has been amazing. I have been learning how to apply my technical skills to a project, as well as sharpening my communication skills to effectively work with my team. I have also learned a lot about myself during this internship. I have realized the strengths I have that make me an asset to a team, and what skills I need to work on. It has truly given me insight on what having a career would be like, and I will always be grateful to this internship for giving me that.

Extra credit: I’m left-handed. And, if I could have any superpower, it would be to fly.

Lambert and Clay, both NASA interns, are supporting the Office of Strategic Analysis & Communications this summer.

SpaceRef staff editor.