Name: Carolina Ragolta
Hometown: Miami, Fla.
College/Major: Harvard, Biomedical Engineering Research
Interests: Materials Engineering, Nanotechnology, Tissue Engineering, Synthetic Biology
Awards/Achievements: NASA Student Ambassador (2012-2013); Business Insider, The 22 Most Impressive Students at Harvard Right Now (January 2013); Harvard Crimson, 15 Seniors to Meet Before They Graduate (November 2012); Hispanic College Fund NASA MUST Scholar (2009-2013)
Hobbies/Interests: Aviation, Traveling, Running, Baking
Three NASA internship opportunities have helped recent Harvard graduate Carolina Ragolta broaden her horizons. And she's excited to share her enthusiasm with other students looking to go after their dreams.
In which NASA student opportunity project did you participate, and how did you get involved in it?
I became involved in NASA student opportunities through the NASA Minority University Research and Education Project MUST (Motivating Undergraduates in Science and Technology) activity coordinated by the Hispanic College Fund. I applied to the project as a senior in high school because I was interested in studying STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and I want to be an astronaut. I wanted to get involved with NASA as soon as I could.
Explain the research you conducted during your time at NASA and why this topic is important.
I spent three summers interning at different NASA centers. During my first internship at Kennedy Space Center, I worked on a water purification system using UVA-LEDs. One of the most exciting things about this project was the clear applicability to one of Earth’s biggest problems -- access to potable drinking water. The following summer at Kennedy Space Center, I tested NASA materials for applications in prosthetic limbs and liners. I enjoyed learning about materials engineering, collaborating with the James Haley Veteran’s Hospital in Tampa, and knowing that my research could one day improve the lives of injured veterans.
Last summer I worked on an incredibly exciting project at Ames Research Center, developing films out of silk protein and nanomaterials that could photosynthesize like plants. These films could be used on future space missions to convert the waste carbon dioxide astronauts exhale into useful oxygen. This project introduced me to the field of synthetic biology.
What has been the most exciting part of your research?
The most exciting part of my research has been meeting so many inspiring scientists and engineers through my opportunities at NASA. I learned so much about the space program and cutting edge technologies from the passionate NASA scientists and engineers who were eager to share their work and answer my questions. I had some truly amazing opportunities as a NASA intern, including visiting the launch pad and firing room, sitting in the commander’s seat of the Endeavour space shuttle, and watching the final shuttle mission blast off from Kennedy Space Center. I even had coffee with an astronaut, Mission Specialist Dottie Metcalf-Lindenberger, which was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had.
What is your educational background, and what are your future educational plans?
In May 2013, I received my bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering with a minor in economics from Harvard College. I plan to pursue a master’s in engineering in the future.
What inspired you to choose the education/career field you did?
I’ve wanted to be an astronaut ever since I was a kid, and I was fortunate to attend a high school with an engineering program that inspired me to follow my dream. Through my high school’s engineering courses and involvement with the National Engineering Design Challenge, I became passionate about using science and technology as a means to help people and change the world. I chose to study biomedical engineering to fuse my interest in biology and physiology with engineering.
What do you think will be the most important things you will take away from your involvement with NASA?
In addition to the strong technical and writing skills I developed at NASA, I made lifelong friendships with my fellow interns and learned so much from the many scientists and engineers who mentored me. I try to share my experiences with as many people as I can with the hope that I can inspire others the way NASA inspired me.
How do you think your experience with NASA will affect your future?
My experience at NASA helped me develop my approach to creatively solving problems and work as a team to accomplish ambitious goals. I became more passionate about space exploration, space policy, and getting more students (especially girls!) involved in STEM. I strive to be the kind of mentor that my NASA mentors have been to me.
What are your career plans for the future?
In August, I began working as an associate product manager at Inflection, a public records company in Silicon Valley. I love my coworkers, and I’m learning so much every day! I plan to attend graduate school to get my master’s in biomedical engineering and continue pursuing my dream of becoming an astronaut.
What advice would you offer other students who are interested in working with or for NASA?
I would advise other students to GO FOR IT! My opportunities at NASA were incredible learning experiences and tons of fun. I saw so many amazing things, met the most inspiring people, and did a happy dance on my way to work every day. NASA has flung open so many doors for me, and it will do the same for any student who works hard and embraces all the wonderful things NASA has to offer.
NASA MUST Project (Motivating Undergraduates in Science and Technology)
NASA MUREP (Minority University Research and Education Project)
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center
NASA’s Ames Research Center
Mindi Capp/NASA Educational Technology Services