New internship gives students oportunities with NASA

By Theresa Evans

Some internships involve getting coffee and filing papers, but others can have critical thinking and technical knowledge applied to real-world experience.

The Exploration and Space Communications (ESC) division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is one of many divisions accepting internship applications for summer 2017.

“NASA has one of the most prestigious internship programs in the country,” said Todd Weber, professor and chair of the biology department. “These internships provide a tremendous opportunity to engage in cutting-edge research with premiere scientists of the world.  Rider science students have the benefit of an associate director from NASA on Rider’s Science Advisory Board, actively encouraging and offering to assist our students in capitalizing on these prime opportunities.”

Although students studying electrical and systems engineering make up the majority of interns in the ESC division, there are opportunities for communication, education, finance, business and human resources majors as supporting staff, according to ESC intern program coordinator Sandra Vilevac.

“We are looking for students who are hungry for knowledge,” said Vilevac. “We want our interns to be critical thinkers who demonstrate leadership and can interact with different types of people. Potential interns must maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0, but we look for more than just grades; we are looking for character.”

Students are encouraged to apply for a specific title within the division even if they are unfamiliar with the job description; they learn the content during their experience, according to Vilevac. Interns balance knowledge and technical skills; they are put in positions to think critically and test their ideas on real problems.

“Applying for internships is often daunting, both in terms of finding the opportunities and preparing persuasive applications,” said Weber. “Both the science faculty and the Career Development and Success office at Rider are committed to working with students to help them take advantage of these opportunities. Students who have engaged with the science community at Rider are exceptionally well-prepared for internships like these. Many of our students have had outstanding experiences in other programs, oftentimes outperforming their peers from high-profile institutions.  I have no doubt that Rider students will also do exceptionally well in NASA programs.”

Students are matched with mentors before the 10-week program starts, giving both parties time to develop close relationships. Interns are never given isolated busy work; it is very rigorous and students work hard, according to Vilevac. Interns are hired starting at age 16 through Ph.D. level, but the majority are undergraduate and masters students. All positions are paid.

“Students can make their résumés stand out by clearly communicating their skills and work experience,” said Vilevac. “In addition, we encourage students to be unique, tell us what makes you stand out from the crowd. We value unique and passionate points of view. For example, we found one intern very interesting last summer who was doing her own research to understand why women do not go into STEM careers. She ended up contributing many new skills to our team as well as inspiring young, future women interns.”

Interns are expected to present at the end of the program to a Goddard Space Flight Center audience. There are five practice runs for preparation followed by one final conference, according to Vilevac. Students are given the opportunity to learn professional skills throughout the process. They are expected to present a broad understanding of the work they accomplish throughout their internship. Students learn to build relationships with their mentor team who offer them the chance to learn real-world skills. Students will also create a portfolio that will serve as evidence for their résumé.

The ESC division is sketching out network architecture for 40-50 years in the future, according to Vilevac. Interns offer a new perspective and knowledge that further propose solutions to daily project challenges. Interns can potentially turn into future employees who will continue what ESC is currently working on.

“Experience is the gold standard for developing as a career scientist,” said Weber. “To be accepted for internships like these is in itself laudable. The networking potential is tremendous, and oftentimes experiences like these can lead to lifelong careers for some people;  for others, this can lead to opportunities in other fields. It is imperative that students make themselves as distinctive as possible. Sometimes it’s difficult to envision all the benefits of taking a step like this, but most successful professionals will confess that they ended up where they are by taking advantage of opportunities that led to paths they hadn’t anticipated.  Once students make this first leap, their confidence in their abilities is bolstered, and doors begin to open.”

“Interns will leave with a valuable experience,” said Vilevac. “They are motivated. We are motivated. Our combined ambition will benefit both sides. I strongly suggest to apply now because you want to get your profiles in the system. There are a variety of locations to choose from. Be bold, apply and work hard.”

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