Kara Karpman says her NASA experience provided her with confidence for the future. Image Credit: Kara KarpmanHow will human changes to the environment impact nations' food supplies? How will a disease affect the economy of a given area? Making accurate predictions depends on good data analysis. High school student Kara Karpman got to tackle questions like those during a pair of internships at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
In which NASA student opportunity project did you participate, and how did you get involved in it?NASA's student opportunity projects are designed to increase the number of scholastically well-suited, highly qualified, diverse students achieving degrees in engineering, mathematics, science or related fields. They support NASA's goal of strengthening the agency’s and the nation's future workforce.
For the past two summers, I've interned at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. My first experience was with the High School Internship Program and my second was with the DEVELOP program. Both gave me the opportunity to apply what I learn in school to exciting and timely topics. I've always been interested in math and science, and I've pursued academic enrichment programs since I was very little, so NASA was a perfect fit for me.
Explain the research you conducted through your NASA involvement and why this topic is important.
My first internship dealt with the human impact on Earth's natural resources. With the help of my NASA mentor, I developed a model to project future supply and demand for carbon resources. Then I applied the model to eight industrialized and eight developing nations so I could assess their relative food security. There is a lot of pressure on our planet to satisfy all of our needs, so you can see how this is a timely project.
The next summer I worked on a team project concerning Rift Valley Fever. We used RVF statistics and risk maps to produce tools that could help governments create early action plans. Vector-borne diseases like RVF can have devastating economic effects and mitigation can play a huge role in sparing agriculture and human lives.
What has been the most important part of your research?
I really enjoyed the opportunity to use satellite data in my first internship. I had all the figures on net terrestrial carbon supply broken down by country so it was quite a large data set! Just having the chance to analyze all those numbers, instead of working on a hypothetical data set, was really exciting.
What is your educational background and what are your future educational plans?
I'm a senior in the International Baccalaureate program at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Md. In August, I begin my freshman year at Duke University. I'm planning on majoring in math, or some field of science, with a minor in economics.
What inspired you to choose the education/career field you did?
I was fortunate enough to have some wonderful teachers who showed me how interesting applied mathematics can be. I think the reason I'm drawn to math is the fact that it's so logical. There's a great deal of beauty in that. Also, it's used in so many fields -- everything from medicine to aerospace technology to national security, so the possibilities of contributing in a meaningful way are literally endless.
What do you think will be the most important things you'll take away from your involvement with NASA?
My internships showed me the importance of being skilled in several subject areas. All of the projects I worked on were interdisciplinary in nature. They combined knowledge of math, computer programming, environmental science, etc. Today's problems require teamwork, and you really need an appreciation and understanding of different fields to be a more effective team player.
How do you think your NASA involvement will affect your future?
I certainly gained confidence to pursue a degree in math or science. I also experienced a great sense of satisfaction working in ... areas that make a difference in people's lives. So much of what NASA does impacts the global quality of life.
What are your future career plans?
Following graduation from Duke, I will most likely go on to graduate school. I'd like to continue pursuing internships and conducting research, of course.
What advice would you have for other students who are interested in becoming involved with, or working for, NASA?
My main advice is, go for it! There are a wide variety of programs students can choose to explore. I would suggest applying to as many as they are interested in. I worked with two programs -- High School Internship and DEVELOP -- and both were equally rewarding. I'd also advise students to take advantage of their time at NASA by getting to know their mentors, learning new software and meeting people who have similar interests to their own. The work atmosphere at NASA is very welcoming. Don't be intimidated by the name and the great work NASA does. The scientists are very approachable.