Episode 3: Omar Mireles

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Episode 3: Omar Mireles
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This episode is a part of the NASA
Student Opportunities podcast series.

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Show Notes

Special Guest: Omar Mireles, NASA Graduate Student Research Project Fellow

(0:00) Intro

(0:21) Interview with Omar Mireles. University of Florida graduate student Omar Mireles shares highlights of his participation in more than a half-dozen NASA learning opportunities, including the NASA Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Project.
       NASA Academy   →
       Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Project -- Microgravity University   →
       Harriett G. Jenkins Pre-doctoral Fellowship Project   →
       NASA Undergraduate Student Research Project
       Graduate Student Researchers Project
       Space Grant
       NASA Cooperative Education   →

(7:15) Thacher Scholars Award   → entries must be postmarked by April 2, 2007.

(8:34) End

Send your comments or questions to: educationpodcast@nasa.gov

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Deana Nunley: This is NASA Student Opportunities -- a podcast connecting high school and college students with learning opportunities inside America's space agency.

Episode 3. February 28, 2007. I'm Deana Nunley.

Thanks for joining us.

Today, we're talking with a guy who has participated in more than a half-dozen NASA learning opportunities. Omar Mireles is a full-time student at the University of Florida, working on his Ph.D. in nuclear and radiological engineering with a minor in materials science. His introduction to NASA came through the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium while he was earning his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and applied mathematics at New Mexico State University. He started out working on astronomy research as an engineer, participated in a couple of co-ops at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, worked on Mars rover missions, participated in the NASA Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Project, and moved on to NASA Academy at Goddard Space Flight Center. He was selected for a Harriett Jenkins Pre-doctoral Fellowship while earning his master's degree in mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech and completed several tours at Marshall Space Flight Center, which culminated with his master's thesis in space nuclear power and propulsion. As a graduate student, he served as a mentor to an Undergraduate Student Research Project student and as a part-time staffer with NASA Academy. He's now on a NASA Graduate Student Research Project fellowship and plans to finish his doctoral work by December 2007.

Omar, you've had so many different experiences with NASA. What stands out as the highlight?

Omar Mireles: In terms of one that really built up a lot, in terms of helping you to become, well, with my particular area -- more of engineering -- but helping you really understand what real engineering is like. In terms of assembling a team, of proposal writing, of being able to design things and meet specifications, and have a science objective in the background, still, and meet all these other requirements, and building things, and budgeting, and going through training, and having it, I mean, it's just so much on your plate. A multi-month project would definitely be the NASA Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program. That was a tremendous amount of work, and I learned a lot from that. A skill that, in terms of project leading, I guess you can say, in terms of working in a group and producing something that would be essentially flight-qualified. Because you have to meet a lot of rigorous standards in order to get this experiment of yours on the aircraft.

And it's a gamble. Writing a hundred-page proposal and sending it in is a significant amount of your time. You may not get accepted. But if you do, great. But there's no funding for it. So now you have to find funding sources and, you know, deadline. You have to build this stuff up, and get it to work, and make sure it's research-grade before it gets out, and then you have to go through all these safety inspections. And then when you're flying in the aircraft, you have to make sure it works. And then, plus there's the rush of you actually experiencing zero gravity, which is pretty neat.

So with that respect, that was a great program.

And the other one, I would have to say, would be probably the NASA Academy, in that it's that, on a very intense ten-week internship. I was at the Goddard Academy, and that was a really intense experience, because it's -- the best way I can describe it is -- "akin to drinking out of a fire hose." There's just so much information that's being thrown at you from all aspects of space, and I'm not just talking NASA. They talk about a lot of the private ventures that are going on, like the X PRIZE and Space Adventures and things like that. Work that's being done in government other than NASA -- for example, academia, maybe DOD.

They really do a good job of tying in how the program works as a whole, and you get to visit a lot of different facilities. And not only that, you build up tremendous relationships with the people you're actually with, because you live with these people for ten weeks. I mean, you have zero free time. You get very little sleep, because you're always overworked. But at the same time, it's very much worth it.

Deana: Do you have any advice for students considering NASA learning opportunities?

Omar: Yeah, just to be tenacious. It's hard to get your foot in the door, the first one, because of everybody trying to apply to get into NASA. It's particularly at the undergrad level. It's really tough. But once, if you just are tenacious enough, and you stick with it, and then you get one internship or co-op, or research fellowship, or something like that, the first one opens up the door for subsequent others. And that really makes things a lot easier.

So obviously, keep your grades up, do as much research as you can, and/or work experiences, and just keep applying, and when you get that first one, things should get a lot easier.

Deana: Do you happen across many students who, like yourself, have participated in a variety of NASA projects?

Omar: It's a small community of people who you keep running into. You know, "Oh, yeah, I remember seeing you at this program." And then you run into them at a conference, and then you run into them at another program. And before you know it, you know people who are scattered at all the different NASA facilities, or other government labs that are working on space-related programs, and you get to know them really well.

And that's actually a nice, in my opinion, a really nice aspect of participating in all the different programs is that you don't just get to see how one NASA facility operates -- you get to see how many of them operate. And by having colleagues spread out among these, if you have a question about something, you can always call them up and get a bit of information. Or, even better, maybe in the future, when maybe each of you are in charge of a small team, and you need to do collaboration, you say, "Hey, I remember when I lived this ten-week internship with this guy. He was a really good buddy of mine. He runs that group now; I'm going to give him a call."

And it's a lot easier to get things done that way when you know somebody on a personal level, and to be able to relate to them. You know they're just as enthusiastic and professional about their job as you are, and it just makes things a lot easier. And I've already started to be able to do a little bit of that.

Deana: Has NASA had a big impact on you?

Omar: Oh, NASA's had an absolutely tremendous impact on what I'm ending up wanting to do. I mean, I went into college wanting to work with NASA, wanting to work on the space program and the aerospace program in general, whether it be defense or space exploration activities. They've always been pretty much my primary objective. And they gave me my very first opportunities, from space grants to do co-ops and internships, research fellowships. Pretty much every single funding source and work experience opportunity that I've had since I started undergrad has been NASA-related. So it's definitely helped to drive, helped me to point myself in the direction I wanted. I knew I wanted to work for NASA, and all these other programs helped focus my direction.

Deana: If you're interested in more information about the NASA learning opportunities Omar has participated in during the last few years, go to www.nasa.gov/podcast and click on the NASA Student Opportunities podcast, and follow the links in this week's show notes.


The Institute for Global Environmental Strategies is now accepting entries for the 2007 Thacher Scholars Award. The institute gives the award to high school students who design and conduct the best projects using satellite observations of the Earth. U.S. students in grades 9 through 12 are eligible for cash awards. For each winning student, a teacher or designated adult "coach" will receive a $200 gift card. Entries must be postmarked by April 2, 2007.

For more information about the Thacher Scholars Award, go to www.nasa.gov/podcast, click on the NASA Student Opportunities podcast, and check out the show notes for this week's episode.


We'd like to hear from you. If you have any questions or comments about NASA learning opportunities, send an e-mail to: educationpodcast@nasa.gov

Thanks for joining us today.

NASA Student Opportunities is a podcast production of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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