Students Embrace Opportunity to Interact with Industry Professionals
Directly off the shores of Lake Erie, a crowd ranging from former NASA astronauts to current high school students gathered to commemorate the late John Glenn and discuss the future of aerospace innovation. The inaugural John Glenn Memorial Symposium, organized by the American Astronautical Society (AAS) in conjunction with NASA Glenn Research Center (GRC), provided students and young professionals with an opportunity to listen to a myriad of panelists discuss topics ranging from atmospheric propulsion to advances in low boom supersonics.
Between panels, students had the opportunity to network with industry professionals such as former NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Senior VP of Space at Aerojet Rocketdyne Jim Maser. “Getting to meet some of NASA’s major contractors was an incredible opportunity,” said Dominic Donofrio, a fifth-year computer engineering student at the University of Dayton, “especially for a college student.”
Two students in particular, Miguel Ramirez of Purdue University and Josh Wolny of George Washington University, were given the opportunity to present their research at the Symposium. Both men were the first-ever recipients of the Molly K. Macauley Award. The award, presented by the AAS, was founded in honor of the late Molly Macauley, a national leader in environmental economics who worked to combine economics and space research. The grant is directed specifically to university undergraduate and graduate students interested in pursuing a similar career path.
One student was selected by a panel of judges for each of the award’s two areas of focus, STEM and Business/Space Policy. Miguel Ramirez, the recipient of the STEM-focused grant, outlined his research in a virtual reality framework to model and predict mechanical performance of advanced composite forms and short fiber composites. As for the business and policy portion, Josh Wolny discussed his research in policy challenges to addressing the space debris threat.
A multitude of students took advantage of the opportunity to attend the Symposium. Many of said students were local summer interns from NASA GRC; however others, like Justin Roll of Keio University, traveled from as far away as Tokyo, Japan to attend the event.
A majority of the interns in attendance were representatives of the NASA GRC Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Internship Project (SIP). SIP is a 10-week-long summer internship where participants ranging from high school students to faculty fellows are able to gain hands-on experience working on real NASA missions in specialized areas of Space Communications and Navigation.
“As someone who is just starting their career, attending this event and being surrounded by so many professionals who are considered to be at the top of their field was a truly invaluable and refreshing experience,” said Nick Sia, a graduate student at West Virginia University and SIP intern. “Everyone was very friendly and genuinely passionate about their work, evidenced by the fact that they were more than happy to talk to anyone that had questions for them.”
SIP has an important impact on the future of NASA, as student interns contribute new perspectives and innovative ideas that can shape the face of NASA. GRC SIP coordinator Tim Gallagher eagerly offered up the opportunity for over half of this year’s SIP interns to attend the Symposium free of cost.
“Attending conferences/symposiums for interns is important because it gives them an edge on current activity in the industry,” said Gallagher. “Even before they start their professional careers, they have the ability to listen to speakers at the top of the industry which can change their lives. They also have the ability to network which can be crucial when applying for jobs. Being able to network with like-minded people in your field proves to be an invaluable experience and very important to career development.”
Aware of the importance of networking with prominent members of the space industry, the AAS included a speed mentoring session for young professionals during the Thursday evening reception. Young professionals were placed into small groups and given approximately 10-minutes to speak with each of the selected mentors.
Despite the time limit, each mentor made it clear that the students were more than welcome to continue their talk after the session, allowing for a more detailed and personal conversation. The list of mentors included former NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, AAS President Carol Lane, former NASA Astronaut Sandy Magnus, and Moog, Inc. Civil Space and NASA Programs leader Steve Witkowski.
“I was able to listen to some of the top people in the industry and learn a lot more about their current projects or missions,” said SIP intern Ashwin Mishra of Miami University. “It motivated me to work harder and helped reassure me that the aerospace industry is where I belong.