High school senior Nikhil Goel says his love for mathematics, science and space is all about where he grew up. Goel lives in the "Rocket City" of Huntsville, Ala. -- where news of space and rockets abounds from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.
It's only fitting then that the high school senior is participating in a NASA student project that allows him to work side by side with the Marshall engineers who are designing NASA's newest rocket, the Ares I crew launch vehicle.
"It's incredibly awesome to be a part of that," Goel said of his work on Ares I. "And when it launches, I'll be able to say I was a part of that."
Goel's eight-week internship is through NASA's Interdisciplinary National Science Project Incorporating Research and Education Experience, or INSPIRE. Through the project, high school students, like Goel, and those entering their first year of college can participate in student opportunities at NASA centers across the country. The project supports NASA's goal of attracting and retaining students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, disciplines.
One element of the project encourages participants to mentor students in lower grades. Goel and other Marshall INSPIRE students recently participated in a mentoring activity at the 2008 Huntsville Air Show. The student mentors led school-age children in making straw rockets in hopes of sharing the mentors' own passion for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
"We're trying to get the younger children interested in it just like we are," Goel said.
Another INSPIRE student, Kristi Webster, is working at Marshall for her second summer. In 2007, Webster worked around rocket engines at Marshall's test stands. The experience was part of the center's Student Volunteer Service Project, through which students volunteer at Marshall to gain knowledge and work experience and to explore careers in STEM.
Webster has wanted to work for NASA since she was a child, as young as the ones she was mentoring at the air show. "I've always wanted to build and design rockets," said Webster, a senior at Scottsboro High School in Scottsboro, Ala., just east of Huntsville. "Just the power of it (a rocket), I just love it."
Webster is working this summer on a rocket propulsion project, building a 100-pound thruster rocket engine with environmentally friendly propellants. She said that INSPIRE has reinforced her plans to study astronautical engineering and physics in college.
"I get to actually experience what an aerospace engineer does, to make sure I like it," Webster said. "I want to do exactly what I'm doing now, designing rocket engines."
INSPIRE engages participants according to grade level. Rising tenth-grade students are eligible for a summer visit to the NASA facility that serves their state for a one-day VIP tour and workshop.
Students entering eleventh-grade may be selected for a two-week, on-campus residential experience in the summer at a selected college or university. The experience exposes students to college life, encourages them to pursue careers in STEM, and provides contact with engineers, professors and students as positive role models and mentors.
High school seniors like Goel and Webster have the opportunity of a residential internship. Selected students work directly with NASA scientists and engineers during an eight-week, paid summer internship at the NASA facility that serves their state.
A collegiate internship is available to students entering college and majoring in a STEM field. These students are eligible for an eight-week, paid summer internship at one of NASA's 10 field centers.
Student Volunteer Service Project
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center
NASA Education Web site →
Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services