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NASA Looks for International Student Educational Interest
Giuseppe Cataldo poses with Orion model Giuseppe Cataldo stands near a model of the the Orion Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle at Lockheed Martin, Houston, TX in 2009 during one of many NASA Academy trips. Credit: NASA Goddard
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Goddard's John Mather sits with international students at an awards dinner Giuseppe Cataldo attends the 2010 John Mather Nobel Scholar Award Ceremony with other NASA Academy members at the Space Telescope Science Institute. From left to right: Henry Fingerhut(larger image), John Mather, Leva McIntire, Jeremiah Noordhoek, Svetlana Shkolyar, Cataldo, and Marc Neveu (larger image). Credit: NASA Goddard
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NASA is putting out the call to students who have interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). There is a national effort to promote STEM education careers to students as young as grade schoolers. Having students of all ages become well versed in STEM subjects will create a pipeline of talent necessary for NASA’s future exploration initiatives. However, there also is a much more immediate need for employing highly-skilled technical workers, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is using innovative approaches to do just that.

Goddard, located in Greenbelt, Md., is at a crossroads in terms of employee turnover and retention: more than 50 percent of its scientific and engineering workforce currently is eligible for retirement. Goddard's science and technology community realizes that it cannot wait any longer to plan for succession and maintain Goddard’s standard of excellence for Earth and space science missions, so it turned to the Goddard Academy for guidance.

"The NASA Academy and its alumni association (NAAA) consist of individuals who have a propensity for leadership, most of whom have careers in the space program. The future in space is likely to involve big programs with international partnerships for which Academy alumni from around the world may well play a part," said Dave Rosage, Goddard Academy program director.

Pipelines between colleges and other space agencies have provided Goddard with a pool of eligible scientists who are eager to lend their talents to NASA. Searching for talent is not just limited to the home front for the agency. "Goddard greatly benefits from keeping this pipeline alive, because international students, scientists and engineers bring with them a wealth of knowledge and expertise gained in their countries of origin along with many new fresh ideas," said Giuseppe Cataldo, a research associate scientist in the astrophysics science division.

Cataldo's story is a prime example of the importance of international outreach. As a native of Italy, his interest in science was fostered early after receiving a book on the Apollo missions from his father. While most kids in America might set a goal to work at NASA, Cataldo couldn't imagine that his efforts would bring him here. He worked hard, first graduating from the Polytechnic Institute of Milan with a B.S. in aerospace engineering and then going to school in France to study aeronautics and space. When the career center of his school urged the students to apply for the NASA Academy, a prestigious and intensive scientific educational program that promotes research, teamwork and leadership, Cataldo was nervous but hopeful.

Along with one other student, Cataldo was sponsored by the European Space Agency to attend the Academy. In May of 2009, Cataldo hopped on a plane and came to Goddard, where he worked alongside Stephen Rinehart in the observational cosmology laboratory. He participated in the program until he went back to France to complete his graduate studies. But with a research grant from the European Space Agency and the coveted John Mather Nobel Scholar Award, Cataldo was able to return and continue working on the project. Cataldo is one of eight NASA Academy graduates that is now working with Goddard in some way.

"Goddard researchers work with international agencies with which we collaborate, such as the European Space Agency. They specifically ask to bring an international student here from one of these agencies," Rosage said.

The result is a two-fold effect that benefits both parties. The students, researchers, and engineers learn how things are made at NASA, and in a country with a different culture, they are getting an incomparable insight into the current and future aerospace program that they could not find elsewhere.

NASA benefits because the agency can take enormous advantage of all the skills and competencies making up their academic and cultural background. Additionally, by teaching them professionalism and resourcefulness, the agency will have trained potential leaders of the future exploration program, which increasingly involves international collaboration.

This point, made by many of the international students, is what they tell their international peers when asked why they don't work for their home space agencies. International cooperation is going to be the future. NASA has international partners who will work with us on projects whose complexity, scope, and costs are increasingly higher.

This partnership comes at a crucial time. With the retirement of the space shuttle fleet, many questioned the future of NASA. But the agency is working towards a new vehicle to take humans into space, continuing innovative scientific research, for the betterment of our planet, and uncovering other space discoveries.

"This not only spurs innovation and creativity, but fosters advancements in science, engineering, and technology, pushing them to the frontiers of human capabilities," Cataldo said. "People need to know, NASA is not going out of business."

For additional information on NASA's relationship with international partners, please visit:
Christina Coleman
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.