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Space exploration takes all kinds -- scientists, engineers, astronauts, nutritionists and astronomers, and the list goes on. NASA also needs photographers, writers and editors to help inform the public about all the great things those scientists and astronauts and astronomers are doing. The responsibility to do just that is what NASA Stay-in-School student Christina Coleman has embraced as a part of the public affairs team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Christina Coleman

Christina Coleman participated in Goddard's Stay-in-School program and is now part of the center's public affairs team. Image Credit: Christina Coleman

In which NASA student opportunity project did you participate, and how did you get involved in it?

I started off in a program titled "COE," or Cooperative Office Experience, at Eleanor Roosevelt High School. Seniors got the option to work half of the day if we were eligible for this program. A handful of students came to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center to interview, and I received a job from the office of procurement. In high school, we had these programs that specialized in certain arenas, and I was in the business program. Procurement seemed to be a good fit, and I ended up staying there for four years. During that time, however, I enrolled in a university, and I transferred to the Stay-in-School student program. It allows students to work while obtaining a degree. Because my major is journalism, I was extremely interested in public affairs and no longer procurement. After an informational interview, I was informed that there was actually a position I could take. I have been in public affairs over a year now.

Explain your NASA involvement and why this is important.

Working in the Public Affairs Office I write stories for the Web and The Goddard View, a publication that showcases employees at NASA as well as new developments. It is my job to meet with these individuals and interview them about the work that they are involved in or the research that is being done. I then write up articles/stories for the publication. I am also on a team here that facilitates a monthly event titled "The Sunday Experiment," an event geared towards elementary-aged children that teaches them about science and engineering. The event is held every third Sunday of the month at the Visitor Center. Officially, I am the promotions coordinator, which puts me in charge of producing and coordinating the promotions for communications vehicles to distribute to appropriate audiences. I also serve as the volunteer coordinator, recruiting volunteers to help with basic and general support for the actual event. Basically, I contribute daily to the goal of PAO, helping disseminate information about Goddard’s missions and activities.

What has been the most exciting part of your involvement?

I would have to say getting to be a part of numerous fields. Being in public affairs doesn't restrict me; I don't have to specialize on one aspect of NASA. In fact, it requires me to be a little knowledgeable about most, if not all, things here at NASA.

What is your educational background, and what are your future educational plans?

I will obtain my undergraduate degree in journalism this summer. After graduation I hope to go back to school to pursue a master's degree in communications.

What inspired you to choose the education/career field you did?

It was important for me to be able to transmit vital information to the public. Whether that is through an article, video, an event or a press release, I realize that it is quite a job and a responsibility to be involved in teaching others about new developments. If not for journalists and public affairs specialists, there would be a huge gap between those who do and those who observe. That's not the way things should be. Nothing should be lost in translation, so I wanted to make sure that there was a bridge. Pertaining to NASA especially, it is paramount that the public knows about the historical and groundbreaking research that is conducted here. I find joy in being able to dabble in engineering, science, physics -- subjects that have very little to do with journalism and communications, yet my job requires that I learn about it all! Who can say that they get to be an engineer, a journalist and a student all in one day?

What do you think will be the most important things you’ll take away from your involvement with NASA?

After six years of working here, I am still in awe of the amazing things NASA does. For me, I think the knowledge that I have obtained from sitting down with these amazing people is what's most important and priceless. These scientists and engineers, and even the business side, are the people that keep the glory of NASA exploration alive. These people are making history and we get to watch. That is absolutely amazing to me.

How do you think your NASA involvement will affect your future?

I now have a better understanding of aeronautics research and space exploration. In addition, the mentoring, experience and fundamental skills I have obtained from working in this Public Affairs Office will surely help me at any agency or career path I choose.

What are your future career plans?

I would like to continue working for NASA, but right now I am focusing on my education and my current work in public affairs.

What advice would you have for other students who are interested in becoming involved with, or working for, NASA?

I'd like to stress that you don't have to be an engineer or a scientist to be a part of NASA's vision. Remember, I was in procurement for four years before I was ever even exposed to a spectrometer or an astronaut. I am not well-versed in science, yet I get to take a part of something special. Talk to your schools and attend NASA programs to get familiar with the jobs that can be done here.

Related Resources
> NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
> Stay-in-School Program at Goddard
> NASA Education

Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services