The Path to Success
Collins points to a poster showing research results

Collins said robotics research was the most exciting part of his NASA internship. Image Credit: NASA

Former NASA intern Ray Collins has high ambitions for his future. And those ambitions received a major boost when his essay about fulfilling his dreams won him a scholarship. Another key step toward reaching his dreams, Collins said, was the time he spent as an intern at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
In which NASA student opportunity project did you participate, and how did you get involved in it?

I was lucky enough to participate in the NASA MISE (Minorities in Science and Engineering) project. I met the coordinator, Madeline Hereford, at my sophomore career fair, followed up with the information given to me and applied for the internship.

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

While I was at NASA MSFC (Marshall Space Flight Center), I had many different tasks, but the research on Object Detection and Avoidance was the most memorable. It was interesting and fun to work on. I learned a lot about LIDAR (light detecting and ranging), integration, and, most of all, working in teams. Our goal for the summer was to basically research technologies that would enable autonomous navigation and landing, and how to implement these tools to increase mission productivity and safety.

What has been the most exciting part of your research?

I would have to say our tutorial with the John Deere R-Gator, which has iRobot and Deere robotic controls, navigation and obstacle avoidance systems. It is used to serve numerous important roles, acting as an unmanned scout, perimeter guard or soldier. We actually got to drive this tractor, (which is) like a huge remote-control car with sensors on it stopping it from running into walls and things. That was exciting.

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

I recently graduated from Alabama A&M University with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. I plan on going back to graduate school through my job's master's program.

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

I have always been intrigued by computers, always interested in how they work and what more they could possibly do. I attended a graphic arts class back in high school. There was no looking back from there; I knew computers would be my life.

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

Overall, the experience and opportunity to meet and talk to a lot of wise individuals. The knowledge I received just walking through those halls will take me very far in life. Nobody treated me like an intern; they treated me as a hard-working young man who they saw a bright future ahead of. I would just like to say thanks to the employees in (the department).

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

It has already impacted my future tremendously. My time and work at NASA opened a lot of doors for me and have taken me places that I never thought I would see.

What are your future career plans?

My future plans are to be successful, as simple as that. Our definitions of success may be different, but to all, success is a good thing. I want to be happy every morning going to work knowing that it's a blessing to be there, and I love what I'm doing. By the end of the school year I received three job offers, and whichever one I take will be one of the biggest decisions of my life.

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

I say by all means go for it; the sky is the limit at NASA. NASA can open up many doors for your future and guide you on the right path for life. I took full advantage of my opportunity, and I suggest you do the same. I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure, which is not trying, so why not give it a shot?
The Minorities in Science and Engineering project is designed to increase the number of scholastically well-suited, highly qualified, diverse students achieving degrees in engineering, mathematics, science or related undergraduate degrees. It supports NASA's goal of strengthening the agency's and the nation's future workforce.

Related Resources
NASA Scholars Program   →
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
NASA Education Web Site   →

David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services