Student Features

New Worlds of Opportunity
Cindy Fuentes

Cindy Fuentes hopes her internship at JPL will lead to further involvement with NASA in the future. Image Credit: Cindy Fuentes

In telling about her days as a student, Cindy Fuentes will be able to talk about her work to find a planet like Earth. As a summer intern, Fuentes worked at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. There she was involved in the Space Interferometry Mission, a proposed space-based observatory with the goal of searching for planets in our galaxy that might be able to support life.

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

I participated in the 2008 Space Grant Summer Internship Program. I found out about internship opportunities at JPL while I was in high school, and I applied for the internship. I attended a NASA Explorer High School under the Applied Technology Magnet program, and my physics teacher there, Mr. Loveall, was the one who encouraged me and helped me apply for my internship. Since he was in charge of NASA activities in our school, he also helped bring in many neat NASA materials and even presentations. I feel that attending a NASA Explorer School and having Mr. Loveall were very important to my involvement during the summer.

Explain the research you conducted through your NASA involvement and why this topic is important.

During the internship, I estimated and kept track of the Space Interferometry Mission, or SIM, mass properties by keeping and updating a spreadsheet of each part's mass, moment of inertia and center of mass. This was important because it could be useful to predict the performance of SIM and to properly design SIM.

What has been the most exciting part of your research?

It was pretty exciting when everything my mentor had told me about in the beginning started to come together. On my first days I was overwhelmed with information about SIM, but as time went on, I learned about the different methods to detect Earth-like planets, specifically interferometry, and how it was implemented on SIM. It was also interesting to see the computer-generated parts of SIMs components.

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

I am currently in my third year at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott campus, where I hope to earn my B.S. in Electrical Engineering.

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

I enjoyed learning about electricity in my high school classes, and I wanted to look more into circuits and learn how they worked.

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

I remember towards the end of the program I was concerned about the accuracy of my final results and told my mentor about these concerns. I was surprised when he told me that if I had voiced my concerns earlier, the results could have been more accurate. That experience taught me to communicate any doubts I have that keep me from understanding or accepting my result, no matter how silly I may think my concerns are.

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

I would like to have another internship there and even work there if given the opportunity. I really liked the whole working environment -- such friendly people all working together on important projects.

What are your future career plans?

My career goal is to become an electrical engineer. In the future, I hope to see myself working with the best in the field to solve problems or make improvements.

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

I would recommend to them to participate in projects related to NASA, or attend workshops, maybe attend a NASA Explorer School, or apply for an internship.

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.

Related Resources
NASA Education
National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program
NASA Explorer Schools   →
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Space Interferometry Mission   →

David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services