Information technology major Nylana Murphy stands in the Crew and Thermal Systems Division high bay laboratory. Murphy interned at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, this summer. (NTU)
Youth across the country have dreamt of space exploration, and many of them have imagined a career that advances aeronautics and aerospace research at NASA. For people like Aaron Yazzie, Diné, a mechanical engineer at the federal agency, it’s a reality. Recently, seven Navajo Technical University students also had the unique opportunity to experience working at NASA through summer internships.
Internship opportunities between NTU and NASA have been an ongoing collaboration for the past decade, and have grown in sophistication since NTU has expanded its academic offerings to include four year degrees and programs with national accreditations, such as its engineering programs and ABET.
Students Marcie Vandever of Thoreau, NM and Adriane Tenequer of Crownpoint, NM participated in a two-month internship at Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, AL where they learned about materials testing and calibrating materials testing machines. Vandever and Tenequer are majors in industrial engineering and advanced manufacturing, and have extensive experience working in NTU’s sophisticated fabrication laboratory. The experience with NASA furthered each students’ understanding of metrology, and expanded their comprehension of how materials testing could be applied at NTU’s new Center for Advanced Manufacturing. The experience also helped validate their studies and provided them with industry insight into how materials testing is applied in a real world work setting.
“A lot of the stuff I learned [during my internship] I was told it would help me for my course studies because it would put me a step above the rest,” recalled Marcie Vandever, who furthered her understanding of elevated and high temperature testing over the summer. “I’m starting to understand it now with the classes I have this semester. Seeing it there and in an actual laboratory and applying it to what I’m learning in my books now, I’m pretty lucky.”
Information Technology major Nylana Murphy also had to travel out of state to participate in her internship, which landed her an opportunity working at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, TX. The internship had Murphy work under JSC’s Crew and Thermal Systems Division where she audited hardware and components that support aerospace life support systems, such as a portable life support system that allows astronauts a livable atmosphere inside their spacesuit. Murphy helped audit hardware testing rigs and she managed folder structures of Microsoft SharePoint webpages.
“The experience I gained from my internship is simply amazing, and the lessons that I learned from it are even more so,” Murphy explained, who was able to witness the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission during her time at JSC. “I never would have imagined myself learning and working alongside engineers and their hardware. This experience reinforces my decision to become a civil servant for NASA, and I hope to use my experience to influence more young, Native American students to pursue the world of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).”
While Vandever, Tenequer, and Murphy had to travel out of state for their internships, several students worked in Crownpoint under a NASA grant to provide support for the inaugural NTU-NASA Robotics Academy. Students worked as youth mentors for the Academy, which was developed to increase youth participation in STEM fields of study. The students who served as mentors included industrial engineering majors Jonathan Chinana, Calsey Nez, and Aaron John, and early childhood multicultural education major Marell Charley.
NTU will next be teaming up with NASA’s Glenn Research Center in hosting NASA Days on its Crownpoint campus, September 11 and 12. The event is intended to inspire students to become interested in STEM fields and provide teachers means of infusing STEM education into class curriculum. A one stop initiative will also be launched to provide college students information on NASA’s summer internship opportunities.
NASA Days will kick-off on September 11 with a K-12 teacher professional development from 9-4 p.m. at NTU’s Student Union Building. Educators will participate in highly engaging NASA STEM curricula and hands on activities. The second day will be for K-12 students and will include activities such as a scientist panel discussion, interactive STEM demonstrations, and a resource fair and information tables.
“Yes, NASA is big, but it’s a huge opportunity,” explained Vandever. “If there’s an opportunity for an internship, go for it. Why not? They’re willing to take us in. They want us, and it’s a good feeling.”
For more information about NASA Days, contact Dr. Monsuru Ramoni at [email protected].