Co-op/Internship Spotlight: Shyamal “Sam” Patel

Shyamal Patel, DB AE

Shyamal “Sam” Patel is a junior in the Aerospace Engineering program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Daytona Beach campus, specializing in Astronautics. In addition to his major course of study, Sam is minoring in Mathematics, Space Studies, Aerospace Life Sciences, and Homeland Security. Sam has completed internships/co-ops with five companies: Northrop Grumman, NASA Kennedy Space Center, The Boeing Company, Masten Space Systems, and most recently with SpaceX. While he finishes his degree, Sam is working on side projects and consulting on his previous project with SpaceX. He is also a Private Pilot and Emergency Medical Technician.

How did you land your co-ops/internships, and how did you navigate the process?

During my sophomore year, I went to the Career Expo and spoke with the SpaceX representatives and learned more about the company. Later that day they had an informational talk in which they discussed more about internships. I learned from the presentation that the most important aspect when considering an intern for SpaceX is their hands-on experience. I used this bit of information the following year during the Career Expo, focusing on my hands-on experience while speaking to SpaceX representatives. I obtained my practical experience from previous internships and university organizations. During my Masten Space Systems and NASA internships,  I gained valuable hands-on experience with fluid systems. Organizations like ERFSEDS and Society for S.P.A.C.E. provided me with additional practical experience with high powered rocketry and working in teams. They were impressed with this experience and called me out to their Cape Canaveral launch pad for an interview. During this interview, I again used my hands-on experience to influence and guide the interview. Within five minutes of leaving the interview, I was called and told that I had landed a co-op for the spring and summer of 2012. My recommendation to students is to really listen to what employers want in an intern and focus on those aspects heavily when talking to representatives and during the interview phase.

What opportunities are available for students at SpaceX?

There are many opportunities available for students at SpaceX. One of the benefits is that there are opportunities in different locations: Cape Canaveral, FL; McGregor, TX; Vandenberg, CA; Hawthorne CA. I interned at the launch site in Cape Canaveral. There, students get to work with the launch operations group, which involves final vehicle integration and launch/mission execution. The Texas facility is primarily focused on testing the various propulsion systems of the Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft. Most of the opportunities for students are located at headquarters in Hawthorne, CA. In Hawthorne, students get the opportunity to work with all of the groups, including: Avionics, Dynamics, Launch Operations, Manufacturing, Propulsion, and Structures.

What advice would you give students who are contemplating doing an internship experience?

Students who are contemplating doing an internship should know that internships are incredible experiences. An internship is your chance to finally see what your field has to offer. I personally believe that I have learned more practical knowledge during my internships than I have in the classroom. Sure, the classroom teaches you the basics, but the basics do not do you any good if you do not know how to use them. Internships are there to fill the gap between theory and seeing it in action.

When I received my offer from SpaceX, I was given a spring and summer co-op. That meant that I had to skip the spring semester and push back graduation. At first, I was on the fence about accepting the co-op because of this push back. I realized that graduating one semester later would be worth the co-op experience. I learned firsthand that the experience you gain far outweighs any cost, even if that means graduating later than expected.

In what ways has your co-op experience impacted your college experience?

My college experience has been greatly impacted as a result of my co-op. My co-op has bridged the gap between what I have been learning in the classroom and how to use such knowledge in industry. During my co-op, I learned many concepts that are just now coming up in my classes. This has made my classes easier because I am already familiar with some of the topics, and it is easier now to follow along.  With this comes a new perspective about classes. I now look at the small topics taught in class and try to find out ways in which they can help me when I return to SpaceX.

Co-op/Internship Spotlight: Joshua Ehrlich

Joshua Ehrlich, BS AE/MS ME ERAU

Joshua Ehrlich, DB, MS Mechanical Engineering

Joshua Ehrlich received a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Florida in May 2011. As an undergraduate student, Joshua completed two internships with United Launch Alliance and an internship with the NASA Space Florida Academy. When he began his graduate studies in Mechanical Engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University last fall, he was determined to obtain a graduate-level internship. His hard work paid off, and he recently completed a Graduate Engineering internship with NASA at Kennedy Space Center.

How did you learn about this internship opportunity?

From the middle of the fall 2011 semester to the end of March, I was applying for as many internship positions as I could find every day, across the globe. I used the internet to my full advantage targeting websites geared specifically towards college students, as well job recruitment businesses and private company websites. I specifically applied towards a NASA internship program that involved a great deal of paperwork and supplementary documentation for my application, which included lengthy essays and recommendation letters from professional references. However, I was told by a fellow student that there was an additional internship within NASA called the Kennedy Intern Program (now called the NASA Pathways Intern Employment Program (IEP)). I applied, simply sending my resume and transcripts to the email provided in mid-February; I received an offer in mid-April and accepted. My advice: No matter how big, small, easy or lengthy an internship application or process may be, take advantage of every opportunity available to you, whether it’s a Fortune 500 business or a 40-person small firm. You’ll be happy you did when you get the call.

As a graduate student, why did you think it was important to obtain an internship?

I highly recommend obtaining an internship while a graduate student, especially if you did not have any extracurricular experience with a company as an undergraduate student. Internship experience reveals to companies, either when you apply for a secondary internship or a job after graduation, that you are desired and are equipped with a skill set that other potential rivaling companies seek. Internship experience prepares the student for what the lifestyle is like as a full-time employee. You learn and develop certain professional standards, communication skills, and technical knowledge that are not only specific to the company for which you are interning for but for the general field of work you are pursuing down the road. Additionally, an internship proves to both you and the company you are working for that you either are or are not capable of ‘keeping up’ with other employees, that you are able to provide support with the skills and qualities you possess and then some without having somebody watching over you; you must have the desire to work with minimal oversight. An intern gains experience by understanding what they are capable of in the workforce, as well as gaining the confidence to excel above and beyond the call of duty.

What projects did you work on while completing your internship with NASA?

I was involved in numerous projects within several divisions during my time at Kennedy Space Center. I was splitting my time between the System Engineering & Integration division and the Materials Engineering & Processes division. I tested and analyzed composite infusion processes for the Composites for Exploration (CoEx) project for the intent of developing and analyzing dry composite structures and materials technologies for future space exploration applications. Additionally, I supplied system requirements in the design of the Science Carrier Unit (SCU) for the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) system, an International Space Station (ISS) scientific payload to be delivered in 2015. I also supported APH mechanical design teams in developing Pro-Engineer models of the Expedite The Processing of Experiments to the Space Station  (EXPRESS) currently installed on the ISS under the APH project. Finally, I developed flight safety data packages, design verification matrices, and verification & validation procedures for qualification testing and supported fellow engineers in the build of VEGGIE, a small-scale expandable plant growth system to be sent to the ISS in 2013.

 What piece of career advice would you like to share with those seeking an internship/co-op experience?

 My advice to students seeking an internship/co-op, especially those who have no prior internship experience, is to become active on campus. Pursue research opportunities, attend clubs meetings/socials, and participate in any extracurricular activities that are presented to you or are available. You cannot be another face in the crowd, but rather a leader outside the classroom. To put it simple: You must want it! You are competing with hundreds of other candidates, so you need to ask yourself, “How am I going to stand out from the rest? What do I have to offer that makes me a highly desired candidate?” An internship will not be handed to you, so the only way for you to be offered the opportunity is for you to earn it. One last piece of advice I offer is do not give up. You will receive more rejections than offers, a lot more. But all you need is one, one offer to be presented to you. So take advantage of your time, become active at school, and apply for as many internships openings as possible, and you will succeed.

Alumni Career Spotlight: Algeria “Queenie” Morse

Algeria Queen Morse

Queenie Morse, DB 2004/2012

Queenie Morse is a 2004 graduate of Embry-Riddle’s BS in Aerospace Engineering program and a 2012 graduate of the MS in Mechanical Engineering program. As a student, Queenie completed an internship as a Space Station Systems Engineer Intern with The Boeing Company at NASA Johnson Space Center. During her time as a student, she also worked for Siemens Westinghouse Power Corporation and FlightSafety International. Additionally,  Queenie attained experience before attending ERAU as a member of the United States Navy.  Upon graduation, Queenie graduated and accepted a position with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, where she worked for several years. Today, she is a Launch Vehicle Engineer with United Launch Alliance and has hopes of one day becoming an astronaut.

How did your internship with Boeing at NASA help you to identify your career focus and/or goals?

Queenie Morse and Eileen CollinsI would say that my most memorable experience at NASA was getting to work alongside astronauts.  It was a goal of mine to one day submit my own astronaut application.  I worked on a project with Eileen Collins (the first female shuttle commander) and had a chance to speak with her on a personal level.  We spoke about what the application process entailed, and she encouraged me to apply multiple times and that most astronauts apply several times before making the cut.  We even spoke about what it was like for her to juggle being an astronaut with being a wife and a mom.

In addition to Ms. Collins, astronaut Steve Robinson also gave me memorable advice.  He told me to structure a fulfilling career and a personal life for myself and let becoming an astronaut be a bonus and not a necessity.  He said that in addition to skills, the selection board looks for well-rounded and fun individuals.  In so many words, he was telling me to work hard but still have some fun and enjoy life.  After all, according to him, the astronaut candidate interview consists of only one question, “So…tell us about yourself.”  I have recalled his advice many times in the last 10 years when making career decisions.

How have the contacts and networking you did on your internship and subsequent jobs  been a benefit to you in your career as an Aerospace Engineer?

In addition to working alongside astronauts during my internship, I gainedAlgeria Queenie Morse with astronauts Steve Robinson and Soichi Noguchi valuable contacts while at NASA.  One notable contact was the mission director for 30 years (now retired) at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory.  We have kept in contact for many years since my internship ended in 2003.  He has been a great mentor and a great reference whenever I needed it.  I recently submitted my first astronaut candidate package, and he eagerly agreed to serve as a reference for me.  This will be a very valuable reference because he knows most of the people in the astronaut selection office.  I am very honored that I gained this connection during my internship at NASA.

How do you feel about students continuing their education directly after completing an undergraduate degree versus gaining experience in the field before entering into a graduate program?

I found working as a full-time engineer and simultaneously pursuing masters courses to be a challenge.  It took a lot longer for me to graduate since I traveled for work and I could only take one class at a time and sometimes no classes at all. Working in the aerospace industry and supporting launches can be very demanding (but rewarding) at times.  There are instances of heavy overtime and travel which is based on launch schedules and/or unpredictable launch delays.

If I could do it again, I would eagerly choose the 5-year bachelor/masters track and get it done all at once.  Because of work demands, it took nearly four years to complete my masters degree.  However, it was nice that my company paid for my masters education!

What are your plans for the future? 

I have now been working in the aerospace community for nearly 10 years.  As a long-time employee with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, I had the pleasure of working in Los Angeles, Florida and Europe.  I have been lucky enough to land jobs building and launching payloads and now rockets.  I recently started a new position with United Launch Alliance (ULA).  ULA builds and launches rockets.  It feels like all my hard work and studies definitely paid off.  What better jobs for an aerospace engineer than to build and launch payloads and rockets! Well, I guess that depends on if I am selected by the astronaut selection office.  I recently submitted my first astronaut application, and I am eagerly awaiting the results!

Intern/Co-op Spotlight: Adam Naids

Adam Naids, Sr, BS EP

Adam Naids is our very first Going Places Intern/Co-op Spotlight. He is a senior, working on an undergraduate degree in Engineering Physics. He has topped off his outstanding academic record with a multi-semester co-op with the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX.  Check out the  NASA is Not Cancelled video, featuring Adam, at the end of his interview. You can find this video and more on ReelNASA’s YouTube channel.

How did you land the internship and how did you navigate the process?

The road to actually getting this internship was a long one. I first found out about the program while searching the internet for internships my freshman year of college. Even though I had very little engineering experience, I applied just to get my name out there and see what I could do to make my application better the next time around. I did not get the internship that first summer but I continued to apply for each session they offered. Finally, after applying four times I finally got called for an interview and got the job.

If I can give some advice to people looking for internships or co-ops it would be to not give up. Keep applying and don’t get discouraged. Also, don’t be afraid to apply for a Spring or Fall offering even if it delays your graduation. These experiences are extremely valuable and will make you a much better candidate to get a job once you graduate. In my case it is taking me five and half years to graduate with my Bachelor’s degree, but I will have completed 4 internship tours. Additionally there are a lot less people that apply for internships or co-ops during the school year than do in the summer. So you have a much better chance of getting accepted for offerings during those times.

To explore internship opportunities I would definitely recommend using Career Services. Their EagleHire system was extremely valuable in finding internship opportunities. They also offer many great classes that teach you how to get an internship. You learn how to dress, how to interview, how to make a great resume, and many more. They were a great resource for me and I am grateful for all of their help.

What have you done and what are you doing on your internship?

Throughout my internships and co-ops at NASA I have had the opportunity to be a part of many amazing projects. My first internship I worked on a reduced gravity simulator. This crane-like system has been designed to simulate the microgravity environment in space, the gravity on the Moon and on Mars. It is currently being used to train astronauts to work in microgravity and will be used in the future to train astronauts to walk on planetary bodies like the Moon and Mars. During my time working on this project I helped design a new generation of the system itself, developed and performed tests to mitigate a problem in the system, and supported human and robotic testing.

My second internship I worked on the Space Exploration Vehicle. This vehicle is being designed to enable mobility at destinations beyond Low Earth Orbit. It will be able to maneuver around an asteroid and even drive across other planetary surfaces like the Moon and Mars. When people talk about spaceships they talk about vehicles like this, and I was very fortunate to get to work on this. During this internship tour I helped assemble the vehicle, personally designed the side windows and integrated them and numerous other components on the vehicle. It was very hands on and I spent many hours in the machine shop. This was truly an amazing experience.

Currently I am working on the International Space Station (ISS) Program. My specific group is responsible for training people to become Flight Controllers. These flight controllers are responsible for the Electrical Power and External Thermal Control System on the ISS. Throughout my time here I have learned about the process it takes to be a flight controller and have developed a huge appreciation for what they do. I have gained immense knowledge in systems engineering and learned so much about the ISS and how magnificent it really is. Additionally, I developed lessons to teach flight controllers in training how to communicate in Mission Control.

As an intern here at NASA we are very fortunate to have many distinguished speakers come and talk to us. Some of the people I have heard speak are NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Chris Ferguson and Sandy Magnus of the Final Space Shuttle Crew, Duane Ross the head of astronaut selection, Gene Kranz, Jim Lovell and Fred Haise of the Apollo 13 crew, and many more. In addition to these lectures we get to go on tours of the NASA facilities. The most interesting tour I have had so far was of the Lunar Rock Curation Facility. It is in this facility that all of the moon rocks brought back from the Apollo missions are stored. Getting that close to these national treasures was such an awesome experience. Another exciting event that we set up was our Apollo night. At this event we watch the movie Apollo 13 in the historical Mission Control Center that the Apollo missions were flown out of with Gene Kranz, the Flight Director during that time. He gives his personal account of the Apollo 13 mission and then we watched the movie. It was one of the most fun nights I have had while here.

What opportunities are available for students at NASA, post-shuttle?

Even though the Space Shuttle Program has ended there are still plenty of opportunities at NASA and their contracting companies as well. NASA is preparing to take humans beyond Low Earth Orbit for the first time since the days of Apollo. There is a lot of work that needs to be done before we can proceed with this endeavor, and that work is going on now. Currently NASA is developing the Orion Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) that will carry humans to these far off destinations. They are also building a brand new heavy lift rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS) that will launch the Orion capsule into space. Additionally, much research is being put into how to explore an asteroid. NASA is currently planning to take humans to an asteroid for the first time in history. This is a difficult mission and there is a lot of work going on trying to figure out how to do this. Even more exciting is that NASA’s long term goal is to land humans on Mars. There is a lot of research and development going on to enable this mission to be successful. These are just a few of the bigger projects going on at NASA that co-ops and interns have the opportunity to work on. It is a great time to be at NASA because the future is bright. History will be made and you can be a part of it.

What advice do you have for students seeking an internship?

When looking for internships that interest you, have an open mind. Almost nobody gets to do their dream job as an internship. So when you are searching for available programs, apply to openings even if you don’t think you will enjoy it. Having an internship doing something you don’t like doing is better than not having an internship at all. That will allow you to get your foot in the door and open up more opportunities in the future. Furthermore, you may end up liking something you never thought you would. In my case I was placed to work with Flight Controllers and see the process they go through to train. I never thought of myself as a flight controller in a million years. However, after being here and seeing what they get to do, it is something I would highly consider if I were to be offered a job here. To sum up, I would say be open minded, try new things, and do the best job you can at the tasks you are given. Doing that will open up opportunities for you to pursue your dream job.

Internships and Co-ops are the best thing you can do for your career while in college. They enable you to put the knowledge you learn in a classroom immediately to use on real world applications. It allows you to figure out exactly what you like and don’t like doing. And even though you may not be assigned the most exciting tasks in the world, everything you do is important to your growth as an individual and for your career. I cannot emphasize enough how imperative it is to do some kind of internship or co-op during college. And it is important to remember that these opportunities will not just come to you. You need to actively go out there and search for them. Search the internet, talk to friends, and use Career Services. There are many avenues to take to be successful; you just have to find the right one. I hope that sharing my experiences with you motivates you to get out there and apply. I have had the greatest times of my life during my internships and co-ops and I want others to have that same experience.

Alumni Career Spotlight: Natalie (Dixon) Bland

We are launching our Alumni Spotlight Series by featuring Natalie (Dixon) Bland, a 2006 Aerospace Engineering graduate from the Daytona Beach campus.  Natalie impressed us as a student assistant in the Career Services Office during her time at Embry-Riddle, so we are not surprised that she is going places as a Structural Analysis Engineer with The Boeing Company.

Natalie (Dixon) Bland

Natalie (Dixon) Bland, DB 2006

We know you have been to SSP – tell us about it!

Space Studies Program (SSP) is a 9-week summer program managed by International Space University. Every year the program moves to a different host city around the world. This year, we were at Graz University of Technology (TU Graz) in Graz, Austria. The program consists of 3 main parts. The first four weeks are core lectures. We have 63 core lectures on every topic in space from economics and politics to life sciences to public engagement. After that we have an exam and phase two begins. In phase two, we are in one of 7 departments (life science, systems engineering, space & society, policy & law, small satellites, physical science, business & management). I was in the policy & law department. We have 12 sessions in our department. Activities vary depending on which department you selected. In policy & law, we learned about the various space treaties of the United Nations and we wrote a paper on any policy/law topic of our choice. I wrote about the contract issues NASA is facing with the Commercial Crew Program. I learned so much in this department. The third phase is the team project. There are 3 team projects with 40 students on each team. My team created a model to help mission designers choose the optimal mission scenario to accomplish an objective (Mars sample return, for example) taking numerous interdisciplinary factors into account. SSP is a very intense program, much like college. It was an amazing opportunity to network with 120 students from 31 countries as well as distinguished faculty / guest speakers. I wrote about my experience on my blog called “60 Days in Graz.”

How has your Embry-Riddle degree opened doors for you?

Because of Embry-Riddle’s excellent reputation in Aerospace Engineering, and thanks to the contacts I made at the ERAU Career Expo, I was able to obtain a job with The Boeing Company upon graduation. Boeing is a great company, and I have really enjoyed my experience there so far (5 years). There are a lot of other ERAU graduates at Boeing, so it is good to see familiar faces. In 2008, thanks to my ERAU connections at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, I was invited to be part of a team of 30 “Gen Y” employees to create a 20-year vision for JSC. Through this incredible experience I learned about strategic planning, and I have been thinking about the “big picture” of space exploration since that time.

What is one piece of career advice you would like to share?

Take the opportunity to get an internship during college. It is a fantastic way to get experience and it makes it much easier to get a job when you graduate. If possible, do more than one internship during your time at ERAU.

What are your plans for the future?

I am looking forward to getting back to Boeing to share my SSP experiences. I am currently in a technical position, performing structural analysis on the International Space Station (ISS). I hope to work on Boeing’s CST-100 vehicle (commercial crew transportation for ISS). I hope that NASA will eventually send humans to Mars. If so, I would like to be part of that program. I have had opportunities to learn about Systems Engineering and Program Management at Boeing, so I am taking steps towards positions in that direction at Boeing.

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