USRP and NASA Academy Participant Elizabeth Sooby
Elizabeth Sooby stands at a lectern

Student Ambassador Elizabeth Sooby presents an overview of her NASA experience during the STS-127 Pre-Launch Education Forum. Image Credit: NASA

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

I have participated in both NASA's USRP (Undergraduate Student Research Project) and NASA Academy programs. I heard about the projects through NASA's Web site. I have interned three times at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and have completed two research projects. I am currently in the process of completing a third.

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

The first internship was in engineering support. I worked with a group of electrical engineers, developing a technical memo on proper cable shielding techniques. In the last few months, I have worked with an aerospace Ph.D. researching oscillations and the effects of cathode translation and electrostatic lensing on thrust and efficiency of Hall Effect Thrusters. Plasma thruster technology has been around since the 1960s and flies on more than 200 communications satellites in orbit currently, though they are not perfect and have major setbacks. Through the research we have been performing, advancements in efficiency and thrust hopefully will break plasma thruster technology into the world of efficient cargo and even human space transport.

What has been the most exciting part of your research?

Running the thruster and seeing the differences made by my experiments have been the most exciting parts of my research. It is always a thrill to acquire data, analyze it, and see the difference I've made.

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

I graduated from Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., with a bachelor's degree in physics, with minors in both mathematics and business administration. I begin a doctoral program in Applied Physics at Texas A&M University this fall.

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

I have always loved science and research. Even as a young child, I had a curiosity about nature. I fell in love with physics as a junior in high school, and the affair continues today.

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

(I will take away) a sense of confidence in my intelligence. NASA has provided me the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them. I have learned that it is perfectly fine to ask questions and stumble over difficult topics -- that is the best way to learn, actually.

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

I plan to stay in the aerospace industry, and hopefully I will return to NASA after completing my doctorate. I never imagined myself in this field, but it is exciting and always changing. I hope to take the lessons I've learned at Marshall and grow as a researcher.

What are your future career plans?

After completing my doctorate in 2013, I plan to return either to industry or NASA to research, then hopefully work into project management.

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

I recommend that all students interested in becoming involved with NASA should research each center. NASA has a broad portfolio, and there is a special fit for each young scientist or engineer at a given center. Once you have identified a center, contact its education office to see what opportunities are available. If the timing is not right, contact your university's co-op or career development office. Some schools have programs in place to foster opportunities with NASA; others may need to have programs put in place. Lastly, find who at your school already has had an educational or work opportunity with NASA. These people can be your best source of insight to find the best way to get your foot in the door with NASA. Of course, the NASA Student Ambassador Virtual Community can be a step in NASA's direction. Contact those of us you think are doing work you are interested in, and we will be more than happy to help in whatever way we can.

How might you expect to contribute as a participant as a NASA Student Ambassador?

I hope to reach out to those students who would not normally think of NASA as a conceivable career path. There are students all over the country who put NASA on a pedestal, but, in reality, it is one of the most down-to-earth workplaces in the country. While most of the people are not the "out-of-this-world" rocket scientists everyone imagines, the work they do is world changing.

Related Resources:
>  NASA Student Ambassadors
>  Undergraduate Student Research Project
>  NASA Academy
>  NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center
>  NASA Education