Living the Dream: Becoming a NASA SEES High School Intern (Part 1)

Author’s Note: This is a series of three posts.

Part 1

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It was exactly two years ago. I was looking for STEM high school internships, and somehow I came across one: the SEES High School Internship, a program in partnership with NASA, Texas Space Grant Consortium, and The University of Texas at Austin Center for Space Research. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Was this real? To be frank, I didn’t know how to process this newfound discovery. High school internships were unfathomable, but a NASA internship for high schoolers (that is completely paid for)? That was nonexistent! However, I suppose I should amend that statement by instead declaring near impossible because they do exist–they’re just hard to find.

I’m not going to lie. I researched this program extensively years before I was at the required age to apply. Yes, I admit it: I am a planner to the fullest. I read articles about the amazing grant that Ms. Baguio received for the SEES internship program. Had it not been for that money to convert a local program (only Austin residents) into a national one, I might not have been able to apply.

Nevertheless, when the time came, I almost considered not applying at all. There’s the statistics. Only roughly 35-40 students are chosen out of over 600 applicants. Then, I doubted myself, and I got busy with AP classes and extracurriculars. However, I decided to make that leap and worked on the application complete with short answer responses (~250 words each) and a video. I realized that all that research I did about the program did not matter as much as the passion needed to be in the program.

Rule of thumb: 70% of it is just finding the program and putting your name in the hat and 100% of it is genuinely wanting it.

And with all of my bundled up worry, I pressed submit and hoped for the best.

A month and delayed e-mail later, I received a “Congratulations! You are one of the lucky students…” I couldn’t have been more effervescent! That day was the best day of my life, but this program was the best two weeks of my life, and I’m so thankful that I was given the opportunity of a lifetime.

I did have to work remotely on various assignments in June prior to going on-site in July to prepare myself on a wide range of topics from Earth’s challenges to space research and investigation. It was taxing and long, but the information was fascinating. If you try hard enough, you might find some of that inspiration in a few of my previous blog posts.

My project for two weeks in July at the University of Texas in Austin was MAGIC Emergency Preparedness, extensively analyzing datasets of the 2017 Meramec River Flood from different satellites by utilizing SNAP and QGIS along with five other teammates. It wasn’t just work, work, work, though. This internship had that work and play vibe which I guess was good to some extent.

Saturday, July 15

IMG_20170715_120621817.jpgI arrived at the Kinsolving Dormitory. It was a pretty nice dorm, and I liked the set-up. It wasn’t my first time living in a dorm, but I actually hadn’t lived in a dorm for this long before, so it was cool immersing myself in dormitory life.

The first day was pretty relaxed because we were waiting for students from other states to reach Texas, as there were flight delays. I got to know my teammates and a lot of other unique students who had very interesting stories to tell.

I might as well mention now that a huge perk was the food. I absolutely love food, and they had a lot of it–always. There were always left-overs, so we would come back for seconds. Yes, this is kind of random, but food is important.

Anyhow, we went to the Panic Room to escape from the Cabin Fever Room which was fun. We got stuck and thus wasted a big chunk of time staring at stuffed bears, plastic fruit, and random mugs for a while. Don’t ask. Unless you know what I’m talking about, and you were part of one of the MAGIC teams. We did get out eventually with one minute to spare, so yes, we did survive a deadly blizzard.

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Sunday, July 16

We woke up bright and early to walk to the J2 Buffet (we had to walk everyday to fill our stomachs), but it was ok because it was an all-you-can-eat cafeteria. We also got to pass by this really neat looking canoe structure along the way.

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Then, we had our Meet and Greet back at the dormitory. Everyone brought a lot of cool stuff, but I’d say a lot of it was chocolate. Funny story, on the last day of the internship, I decided to meet up with my robotics team in Austin because they conveniently had a competition that same weekend. I got lost for an hour in the sweltering heat (it was supposed to be 23 minutes away), and I had left my bag of trinkets from the Meet and Greet in the car because I had forgotten about it. When I finally got back home, all the chocolate was mush.

Later, teams grouped up to play the Xtronaut Game; the goal is to basically obtain the correct cards needed to launch a mission into space.

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Afterwards, we got on a bus to go to iFly. This was by far one of the most exciting activities I was thrilled to get to do. We spent a few hours here to learn about the mechanics and science behind iFly as well as learn what we needed to do prior to actually indoor skydiving. It’s not actually flying because I’m basically laying on a cloud of air, but it felt really close to the real thing (or what I think would be the real thing).

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We ate dinner at the County Line right besides Lake Travis. Who could possibly want more? There was barbecue and nice scenery. They also had turtles swimming around that you could feed. I got to meet my mentor and CSR remote sensor Ms. Howard who I would be working with for the next two weeks!

She’s a really amazing person and used to be an artist involved in archeology, drawing ancient sculptures and artifacts from places all over the world such as Greece.

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One of Ms. Howard’s drawings of an artifact

Monday, July 17

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I went to the University of Texas Center for Space Research (CSR) building where I would work for the next two weeks. Lots of offices, but all the interesting images and posters around the walls made it look really captivating. We actually did a scavenger hunt by answering questions about all those posters around CSR.

We typically worked at least 4 hours on project work with Ms. Howard everyday in the CSR library. Monday, we just reviewed what we learned remotely, specifically SAR, subsets, and speckle/multi-look filtering.

Then, we went to Lupe Tortilla and ate delicious fajitas.

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Tuesday, July 18

We learned more about UT and their Aerospace Engineering department from Sarah Kitten. I never realized that they had so many incredible groups and organizations that made rockets, tinkered with jet propulsion, and lots of others. It gave me a broadening perspective and even opened my mind to the idea of studying abroad.

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Being able to see the Maker Lab was definitely a favorite of mine. I don’t know why, but I was drawn to the atmosphere of it. It reminded me of my robotics mentor’s makerspace. 3D printers and tools literally lined the walls and they even had a really cool laser cutter–it didn’t remind me of work but a playground of the most coolest tech.

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Then, we went on a short tour of UT with a former UT student as our tour guide. He gave us insight in the plethora of opportunities that UT had to offer such as theaters and plays, shops, movie nights, dancing, places that offer assistance to students, hiking trails, and eateries.

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After that, we went back to CSR to work on our projects. My team focused on retrieving Meramec River data of pre and post flood from the Alaska satellite facility website.

 

Up next: Living the Dream: Becoming a NASA SEES High School Intern (Part 2)

 

 

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