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How to Be a Successful Intern

Season 1Episode 206Jul 29, 2021

NASA interns Jaden Chambers and Leah Davis join student mentor Kelly Smith to discuss the experience of being a NASA intern and what it takes to stand out. HWHAP Episode 206.

How to Be a Successful Intern

How to Be a Successful Intern

If you’re fascinated by the idea of humans traveling through space and curious about how that all works, you’ve come to the right place.

“Houston We Have a Podcast” is the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center from Houston, Texas, home for NASA’s astronauts and Mission Control Center. Listen to the brightest minds of America’s space agency – astronauts, engineers, scientists and program leaders – discuss exciting topics in engineering, science and technology, sharing their personal stories and expertise on every aspect of human spaceflight. Learn more about how the work being done will help send humans forward to the Moon and on to Mars in the Artemis program.

On Episode 206, NASA interns Jaden Chambers and Leah Davis join student mentor Kelly Smith to discuss the experience of being a NASA intern and what it takes to stand out. This episode was recorded on June 14, 2021.

Check out our collection of intern podcasts for National Intern Day!

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Gary Jordan (Host): Houston, we have a podcast! Welcome to the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center, Episode 206, “How to be a Successful Intern.” I’m Gary Jordan and I’ll be your host today. On this show, we bring in the experts; sometimes we bring in the folks who will become the experts. By the way, Happy National Intern Day! So, let’s say you actually landed an internship. From there, what can you do to stand out, be successful, and maximize your chances to land that full-time gig? That’s what today’s episode is all about. Today we’re bringing in some successful students and a mentor, which, at least at NASA, is a full-time employee at NASA that’s there to help guide the interns through their journey at NASA. So, joining me is Jaden Chambers, a Pathways intern at the Kennedy Space Center; Leah Davis, Pathways intern here at the Johnson Space Center; and Kelly Smith, a student mentor here at the Johnson Space Center. So, here’s how the next generation is making their mark on the space industry. Enjoy.

Host: Jaden, Leah, and Kelly, thank you so much for coming on Houston We Have a Podcast, today. Happy National Intern Day! This is an exciting topic for us to be tackling. We’re trying to give the full internship perspective and this one is going to be focused mainly on — OK, so you got the, you nailed the NASA gig, you’re at NASA right now; how do you stand out? How do you become successful so that you can land that full-time position? So, that’s what we’re going to be going through today. Each of you have the benefit of, of being in this world already, having a little bit of an experience. So, Jaden, I wanted to start with you. Tell us a little bit more about yourself, where you are, and you know, some of that, your major, that sort of thing. Tell us more about yourself.

Jaden Chambers: Thanks for having me, Gary. So, like you said, my name is Jaden Chambers. I’m a third-year mechanical engineering student at the University of Central Florida. I landed the NASA internship program for Pathways in January, and I’m a part of the construction and facilities branch. So, what this role really pertains to is all the mechanical engineering aspects of the building on-site. You know, ranging from piping, heating systems, ventilation systems, things like that; anything that really allows the facilities on center to function appropriately. A big chunk of the work I do really consists of reviewing design documents, specifications, things like that, for the equipment. The other half would be conducting condition assessments on the center, and by that, I mean I go onto center and pretty much just look over the mechanical equipment, make sure everything is functioning appropriately, you know? Besides that, I also evaluate the associated documentation for each project, such as like cost estimates, comments, RFIs (request for information) things along those lines. But the really cool thing about this position is that it’s unique in the fact that it allows me to see projects from all across the space center, particularly during the walkdowns and condition assessments. Since I’m actually able to go on center and see each thing in person, I’m able to see the different projects that the different divisions and matrixes are all taking part in and I think it’s a really amazing thing. So, there’s some really cool things going on, on center. But yeah, that’s a little bit about me.

Host: And yeah, and you get to see it all. So how has your engineering experience helped you prepare for, for doing all that, to going all around the different sites and, you know, having your signature on there that says, yeah, this is, this looks pretty good from my perspective, because I’m an engineer?

Jaden Chambers: Right [laughter]. So, while I did like engineering projects and stuff like that in like elementary and high school, it really started for me in college. So, my first year I joined an organization called AIAA, which is the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. And in that organization, it had like so many different projects for aspiring engineers to work on, like ranging from quadcopter design, airplane design, high-powered rocketry; it just had so many different things. So, me coming in as a freshman, I’m like, alright, I got to take part in as much as I can, get that really good engineering foundation. So, I joined that club and I took part in quadcopter design and airplane design, and that’s really how I learned how to do CAD software, which is computer-aided design. It helped me work in teams, also, work with other aspiring engineers to achieve a common goal, and it really just gave me that really good engineering foundation. It gave me what to expect, you know? So, I really owe a lot of this to joining that club because it really taught me a lot about engineering and solidified the fact that it’s what I want to do.

Host: Very cool, Jaden. Well, I appreciate you, you coming on today. It’s great to have you. So —

Jaden Chambers: Thank you for having me.

Host: Yeah absolutely. Absolutely. Leah, back over to you. You’re at the Johnson Space Center, right? So, tell me about yourself and your major and stuff.

Leah Davis: Sure, and just like Jaden, thank you for having me. I am an aerospace engineering student at Texas A&M University, and I was previously a USRA (Universities Space Research Association) and OSTEM intern for three semesters at JSC working in a couple of different groups. And now, I’m a JSC Pathways student. Currently, I am working on the rendezvous and visiting vehicle team and flight operations. And with that, I help support the team with console tools and computational tools that go into the display so that we, as mission control, can exactly what the crew is seeing onboard, and so we can be on the same page and understand, you know, when an anomaly comes up. And so, that’s been really amazing, and I’ve gotten to also sit on console with some of the members of my team and really get a feel for what flight operations is all about. And with that, I’ve also gotten to do some visiting vehicle flight controller training, too.

Host: Very cool. And you’re, you’re right in the middle of the action now. I know, I was listening to a sim[ulation] just today and you said you were taking part of it.

Leah Davis: Right. So, I came on to work on the Boeing Starliner mission with my team and this is what I worked on in my, my last two internships as well. And so, it’s been kind of a nice, a nice holistic internship experience to be able to work on the Boeing Starliner mission so much in my internship experiences. And the CFT (crewed flight test) is looking to fly this summer and coincidentally, probably on my last day of my internship this summer. So that’ll be an exciting end to my internship, but there’s also SpaceX, we just had the cargo mission go out to station, and I got to sit on console for that in the back room and that was really cool because I got to see the launch and then I got to go in for an overnight shift and sit on console for docking, and it, it was difficult to stay awake, but it was definitely worth it to see that experience in person.

Host: Yeah, there are going to be some odd hours with flight operations, but that sounds cool. I know I myself am working towards that Orbital Flight Test 2, Boeing’s uncrewed test mission. It’s going to be pretty exciting stuff, so, so welcome! It’s great to have you on again, Leah. So, I know you did, you worked in our office for a bit, so, no, actually, we just worked together on something else, some, some Pathways thing, right? So, it’s great to be working with you again.

Leah Davis: You too.

Host: Cool. And so, Kelly. These two students are kicking butt when it comes to working at NASA. You decided to become a mentor. So, you’re bringing the mentorship perspective to, to help these students kick some butt while they’re here. So tell me a little bit about yourself and, and what inspired you to become a mentor?

Kelly Smith: Sure. Well actually, I started out as a Pathways intern, which was at the time known as the co-op program, a little over 12 years ago. And so, I myself benefited from outstanding mentors while I was an intern. And so, now as a full-time employee it’s kind of my way of giving back and helping to kind of feed the pipeline of future leaders here at the agency. So, yeah, so I started as a full-time employee about 11 years ago now, and a co-op for about a year and a half before that. I was an aerospace engineering student at Iowa State University; got my bachelor’s there. And just about a year ago I completed my master’s degree in computer science. So, yeah, my path here at the agency, I started out in flight operations, working on Space Shuttle Program, as well as the Orion program. And I was fortunate enough to support the Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 back in 2014 as the trajectory officer in mission control. Simultaneously, I was also working on the Guidance, Navigation and Control team, writing flight software, doing trajectory analysis, developing flight rules, helping plan aerial observation campaigns, and just doing lots of really amazing work. In addition, I had the opportunity to support the, some JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) projects. So, the recent Mars 2020 Perseverance lander that landed on Mars, we at JSC had a role in that by helping to design the guidance, entry guidance system. So, throughout my career here so far, I just had a ton of opportunities to try lots of different things and a ton of, you know, the success that I have had in my career is largely due to the outstanding mentorship that I received while I was an intern.

Host: Very good, and now you’re giving back and helping all these students to succeed while they’re here. So, this is, this will be awesome. This is, this is mainly a discussion about, about really what to do when you’re here, you know, to make the most out of your internship and, and stand out and do amazing things. But I want to go back to more about these majors. It seems like there’s a lot of overlap here. We all got the engineering experience from all three of you, which is fantastic, and it seems like it’s definitely one of the more popular paths to end up at NASA, but, you know, not many of our, some of our listeners are pretty young, you know, we’re talking ten, 11, 12, so they might not even know what really engineering is all about or why they should be passionate about it? So, Jaden, I’ll go back to you for a sec to talk about just what inspired you to think, hey, you know what, engineering is the way to go for me.

Jaden Chambers: So, I want to start off by saying it’s never too early to get involved, you know? I started off with engineering in elementary school. I was in a club called SECME, which is called, it’s like abbreviated for science, engineering, communication, mathematics, and enrichment. We did things like construct bottle rockets, mousetrap cars, solar powered cars, and it, as a kid, really opened me up to the possibilities of engineering. I had no idea how broad this field ranged and how much you could do with it, you know, which is why when I was entering college I knew I wanted to do engineering but I just wasn’t sure about, specifically, what type I wanted to do. I actually entered as an aerospace engineer, which is why I was doing so many aerospace projects and opportunities. But after taking some of the classes, like programming, or learning about CAD design, I knew what type of engineering I wanted to do because I found more of my passion, you know, in programming and in CAD design. So, even if you’re at a young age, it’s really never too early to start getting involved. While the difficulty of engineering is going to increase as you kind of get older, it still gives you a really good foundation getting involved early on, because it lets you know what to expect, it lets you know the way you should start thinking. So, I would definitely say take those opportunities when you can. If it’s something you’re really passionate about, I’m sure you’ll have no problem achieving it.

Host: And Jaden, it sounds like it’s, you know, you had the benefit of starting early and getting inspired early into engineering, but it also sounded like you were going in one path in college and then you found some different path as you were going along. So, I think it’s important to note that even, you know, even if you find that inspiration early, it doesn’t mean that you’re stuck in a certain way. So, if you, you know, just because you started aerospace doesn’t mean you have to stay aerospace because that’s where you started. If you find you’re passionate about something else, it’s OK to branch off and do something else because what you’re doing is you’re changing your career to something you know you’re going to like.

Jaden Chambers: Oh yeah, absolutely. At one point I was sure I was going to do computer science, in between aerospace engineering and mechanical engineering. Since I really enjoyed my Into to C class for programming I was like, wow, this is like so much fun; I think I might want to do this, like for my life, just coding. But then I, I just started thinking of the broader picture because I also had other passions in robotics and sort of like that sort of innovation, you know? So, I wanted to find a major that would combine everything, combine my passion for robotics, programming, CAD design, and that’s where mechanical engineering popped in. So, you’re completely right, you know? You’re not stuck in a set path. You can kind of like, no matter where you are in life, you can kind of just go around, explore different areas, figure out what you like, and kind of work towards it wherever you can.

Host: That’s awesome. So, so Leah, your beginnings and what inspired you to pursue engineering as a field?

Leah Davis: Sure, so I have a very opposite approach and experiences to Jaden. I actually went to a performing arts high school in Dallas, Texas for theater. And after my high school career I thought that theater was going to be my life and I ultimately committed to a university for theater and wanted to pursue that, up until a week before I was supposed to fly out and then I decided, you know what, there’s something else calling my name. And I couldn’t really tell you exactly why I switched so abruptly there, but I just knew that I wanted to be a part of a very challenging work environment, such as engineering. And, you know, coming from that very artistic background and very creative background, I felt very uncomfortable with the engineering principles at the beginning. And it was very much, you know, oh, I didn’t do robotics in high school; I didn’t have a robotics club or opportunity, or anything STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)-heavy related for a club in my high school. And so, I definitely felt like I was a little bit of a wallflower at first. But then, just kind of getting thrown in and being able to take, you know, these unique skills that maybe I have a little bit more than some of my peers next to me, such as, you know, communication and this ability to speak to people in a public manner and, like, collect my thoughts and feelings, and be able to talk to those. So, I think just taking my previous passions and then figuring out a way to tie them in to engineering and kind of build myself up, and in a way that makes me a little bit unique compared to my peers, has definitely helped me. And so, you know, while your passions may change, some of those passions that you keep can make you really unique in the work environment for engineering, and that’s something that I’ve been really involved with. Recently in my tours of, you know, taking that creative side and using that to talk about NASA’s missions, and take engineers and, and you know, show them on a screen to, to other people outside of NASA and show what we look like, show what we talk like. And that’s been a really cool part of just kind of, you know, meshing those two sides that maybe don’t seem like they would make sense to go together, but definitely do and they’re important to go together. But in terms of aerospace engineering, I just really love the idea of having just limitless possibilities of where we can go and what we can do. My first internship was working on Artemis integration and being a part of that mission and being a part of, you know, getting the first woman and the first person of color to the Moon and onto Mars, has been just so exciting, and so I think just always going in day in and day out, just feeling really inspired about what we’re doing and, you know, the unlimited opportunities of where we’re going.

Host: Very cool. Do you find, Leah, that, you know, maybe, maybe, even though you pursued something more on the logical side, engineering definitely having a lot of elements of logic to it, math and science, but do you find that you can insert some of your creativity that maybe you pulled from a theater background into even what you’re doing on?

Leah Davis: For sure. You know, even when you’re going through a presentation, just having the ability to capture your audience visually and through, you know, just talking, is really important to keep people in a meeting for an hour or so plus, and so, that’s been really important. But then, I’ve also been involved in research since my second semester. So having that creative side of, you know, here is a topic we want to research, and there are so many opportunities and ways that we can research this, and being able to explore those different paths to better sort the data and have a better conclusion has been really important. And then just on the side of writing, being able to have that ability to write research papers and, you know, give those findings out to the world has been a really big part of what I’ve been doing as well.

Host: Very cool. Yeah, I did theater in high school, and I found that even though I didn’t pursue theater, you know, just some of those skills, just as you said, some of those soft skills, really translated very nicely, even to, to what I’m doing now. So, it definitely helps. Now, Kelly, some of the, some of your background as an aerospace engineer, what inspired you to take that and then pursue it, to end up interning, like you said, at NASA?

Kelly Smith: Sure. My path is actually closer to Leah’s. Growing up, I grew up on a family farm in Iowa. There was no one in my family who had pursued engineering or anything STEM-related at all. And so, I really wasn’t, didn’t really know what engineering was as a high school student. I really enjoyed foreign languages and so for several years I was thinking about studying a whole bunch of different foreign languages in college. I didn’t really quite know what to do with it, but I knew I enjoyed it. But then my senior year of high school, on a whim, I took physics…I was always pretty good at science, and took physics, I thought it something to do maybe with atoms or something like that, and I absolutely loved it. And it was kind of an epiphany for me that this is absolutely what I wanted to do. You know, I was somewhat disappointed to find out how much math is going to be involved with physics, but once I, you know, got over that, my teacher told me about engineering and, hey, if you’re really interested in this, you know, maybe you should consider a path in engineering. Being from Iowa, Iowa State University, of the state schools, is probably the most well-known engineering school. And so, I thought I could just go study engineering. Well, it turns out there was all these specializations and I didn’t really know what I should do, but I really liked airplanes and I had seen the movie “October Sky,” which came out when I was in high school, about Homer Hickam, and his story resonated with me and I really enjoyed, you know, making bottle rockets, or model rockets and things like that. So, I signed up for engineering, not knowing how to program, didn’t know what programming was; thought maybe it had something to do with wires and circuit boards or something. It’s funny, now I got my master’s degree in computer science, focusing on artificial intelligence and machine learning. And so, my path, you know, in high school, I was really involved in sports and I did choir and band and stuff. And I think, kind of the element of performance of, you know, being willing to get up on stage in front of your peers and sing a solo or play a solo on your musical instrument, helps kind of build a confidence. And so, it turns out those types of soft skills that you develop through those types of extracurricular activities outside the classroom can pay enormous dividends in your career in engineering, where those types of communication skills sometimes aren’t as prevalent, frankly. And so, that was kind of my path to make it to NASA and help kind of get me to where I am today.

Host: So, then tell me about from there, Kelly, going into your co-op experience at NASA, going from there, and then what you did to stand out while you were there?

Kelly Smith: Sure. Well, I guess, my, my path to NASA was kind of a funny one. So, I wasn’t particularly interested in working on military-type of projects, and that, in the aerospace industry, at the time, that really narrowed my prospects significantly to be working on either civil aviation or space travel stuff, from my perspective. And boy, I thought there was no way at all that I was going to get in at NASA because that’s just, you know, those people are geniuses, right? And so, there’s no way that that was ever going to happen, but my mind was blown when NASA recruiters came to our career fair at Iowa State University. And so, I stood in the longest line of the entire place and waited to take my turn to get a chance to talk to a recruiter, and lo and behold they gave me an interview. And so, I interviewed, ultimately did not get it the first time I interviewed, so waited a year. Meanwhile, I was getting more involved in different extracurriculars on campus. I became the mascot for a period. I was a resident advisor in the dorms and kind of learning how to work with people and manage people and things like that. And eventually, I got the NASA co-op by, you know, emailing a whole bunch and probably being one of the more annoying applicants, and now the process is completely different, I understand, but my strategy ultimately worked out. I was able to get an internship and land here. And so, my very first assignments were all very heavily programming-oriented, to fix console tools—it sounds similar to kind of like what Leah is working on for her internship. So, I was working in a flight-controlled group, building console tools, writing calculate, or writing tools that would do calculations to accelerate and streamline console operations, and things like that. So, it made me realize, you know, I just learned a little bit of programming stuff at school that was mostly focused on, you know, solve this equation or compute this to help me solve this problem set. But boy, you could really build a lot of pretty amazing things with software, that were practical and solve, you know, real problems that flight controllers had. So, I think one thing that kind of informed, you know, my path was, I was, you know, I just felt like I didn’t belong here. In terms of, boy, all these people with more background who were involved in robotics clubs and STEM backgrounds and STEM families, things like that, I didn’t have any of that. So I just felt very determined to try to, you know, earn my place here. And so, I didn’t realize, you know, how hard I was working, I guess, at the time. And so, I think kind of the thirst to prove myself here, I think, kind of helped launched me, and just being willing to learn from my mentors, who were so generous with their time with me to teach me, you know, the specialized skills that I was certainly not going to learn in school. Because, you know, it’s so specialized or so advanced that it would take, you know, a master’s or a Ph.D. curriculum to try to get that type of knowledge. So, just being willing to learn and do the work to learn from the very best here.

Host: I think, Kelly, that, that thirst to prove yourself is going to be a pretty big theme throughout today’s discussion. I feel like both Leah and Jaden are going to have a lot of, a lot of that to share, and it sounds like you did as well, which is, I think, in part, the reason that you’re working at NASA even today. Leah, I am sure you have a story about whenever you came to NASA, something that you were doing as a thirst to prove yourself.

Leah Davis: Yes, I didn’t even know that the Pathways Program existed. I came in as a USRA intern and I thought, you know, that was the coolest thing ever and I’m set, you know, I’m in the door. And then the Pathways Program came up and I realized, wow, I want to be in that. And, you know, just like Kelly, I didn’t get it the first time. I worked really hard in my interview and, you know, I walked out of there thinking, wow, this went really well, and then I didn’t get an offer. And honestly, that’s, that’s about most of the people who apply to the Pathways Program, they don’t get it the first time. And so, just having that thirst outside of NASA to keep going: if you really want a NASA internship, you know, don’t give up on that. Take the time to put in that application and, you know, do well with it and find mentors to review all your materials that you’re submitting, and, you know, just take that time, really necessary to do well with just the application process. So then, I applied my second time, last spring, so in 2020, and it was, it went well, again, and this time I was a little bit nervous about getting an offer. And then, I ultimately ended up getting an offer and coming on this past spring. And this past spring I was definitely in an area that it wasn’t as interesting as some of the other places that I’d worked in my previous tours, and so I was a little bummed about it and it was a little hard to kind of find that motivation in me at first to, to really participate and really push myself to go the extra mile. But I think, honestly, just, just working virtual also played a part in that, just due to COVID, not always being on-site. And ultimately, just kind of, you know, throwing myself in it and taking the time to learn all of the tools that I needed to succeed, and, you know, working those long hours and maybe even a little more than 40 hours a week, and just on the grind of setting up goals for myself, manageable goals, that, you know, I can use my mentor to meet, and we can work together to kind of help guide me along the way, if something shifts or if the deadline gets a little bit pushed and really understanding, you know, where am I and where can I go in, in my tour that I have right now? So, I think, for me, it was just really setting up those goals. And by the end of my internship, I was very happy. I didn’t know that I had done as much as I had until I got to my exit presentation, you know? It was, wow, I didn’t know that you did all this, you know; this is something that an intern would have done in a lot longer of a period and you’ve done it in such a short time. So just, you know, being willing to learn, like Kelly and Jaden have both said, and being willing to push yourself, if you want something, you know, set up those goals to get it.

Host: Yeah, and that, I think that hustle was pretty key, Leah, because I remember those, those same things when I was Pathways. It seems and especially, I mean, I think you’re definitely going to find it this summer, but man, those summer, those summer internships go by in a snap. Like they are, they just fly by. And it seems like you have, you were there and then you’re not there. But it’s just amazing what you can, what happens in that short amount of time and how much, how much you can accomplish. So that when you do get to your exit presentation, the presentation that you say, here’s what I did this past semester, you’re like, oh man, I actually, I actually did do a lot and it’s all because of that hustle, that grind that you were saying that you put yourself through. So, Jaden, I’m — sure you had a similar grind when you were at the, at the Kennedy Space Center?

Jaden Chambers: Yeah. So, when I entered construction and facilities at the Kennedy Space Center, I really had no idea what to expect, you know? I knew sort of what the job entailed, but I had no idea the work that would have to be put in, you know? And being able to balance full-time internship with full-time school is definitely very difficult, especially when you’re taking 12 to 15 hours of engineering classes on top of internship, but it’s absolutely worth it, you know? The things you learn from this internship, how you learn how to communicate, you learn how to work in teams, you meet so many different people; the interns and the employees that work at NASA are just amazing. I haven’t met a more genuine group of people, like they’re all very amazing. And it’s just, while it might be tough, it’s, it’s all worth it, because you’re working towards where you want to be in life, you know? When I was younger, I looked at NASA and I was like, wow, there’s no way I’m ever going to get that. And even now, like when people hear that I’m in NASA they always say things like, “oh really, NASA. I’m not smart enough for that; I’m not qualified; my GPA (grade point average) is way too low for that.” Listen, I entered college with practically zero knowledge of any engineering, besides what I’ve done in like elementary school, like very surface level stuff. Like while I did engineer clubs as a kid, I had no idea what to expect, you know? But that’s OK, I was aware that this was only the beginning of the journey and yes, you do have to put the work in to succeed, you know? One thing you should never do is sell yourself short. I’m going to be completely honest; I wasn’t even going to apply to the Pathways Program. Like I constantly told myself I wasn’t qualified enough. I told myself there’s no point if I’m not going to get it anyways and no, my GPA wasn’t high; I wasn’t one of those genius-level kids, you know, but I applied anyways because I was told I could do it and I kind of told myself I could do it and I made it, you know? And now, I know Leah and Kelly also went through very similar experiences, you know, how we made it, and now we’re telling you guys not to make the same mistake that we almost did, you know; if you have a dream, you’ve got to pursue it because in the end you might surprise yourself.

Host: See, that’s, that’s awesome, because what you’re saying is and what I’m hearing from all of you, really, but particularly from, from you, Jaden, and from Leah is, it’s not, it’s not clear cut and it’s not easy. It’s not like and, you know, I worked really hard, I studied, I got good grades, applied for an internship, got it, you know; did great stuff while I was there. It seems like there’s, there’s ups and downs all along the way. You’re going to get some rejection, you’re going to have a lot of things where you have multiple things happening and you have no time, it seems like. But no matter what, it sounds like both of you are very passionate about it and you want to do well and so you work very hard. It sounds like those are some of the qualities that are required to be a successful intern when you’re here at NASA. Kelly, I think you have the experience of being a mentor for a lot of these different students. You’ve seen the hustle and grind, just like Leah and, and Jaden here are perfect examples of. When it comes to being a successful student, what are some of these students doing that really stands out?

Kelly Smith: Yeah, that’s a great question. The, you kind of touched on this earlier, the internships are pretty short, usually, you know? A summer internship is typically around ten weeks or so. So, if you, and a spring or summer internship is typically 16 weeks, the, the same length as a standard academic semester. So, if you really want to stand out, what the key is is to come up to speed as quickly as possible, on your particular task, by gaining all the background information that you can possibly do that. And so, the way you can do that is, you know, you can go and read the reference materials that your mentor or your group will likely provide you. The other key thing to do is just to ask a ton of questions. The thing I always tell my interns that I mentor is, you are going to be overwhelmed, you are going to be drinking from a fire hose; your job is to try to absorb as much as possible and ask questions. If you are not asking questions, that is a red flag, because if you think you, if you think you know all this stuff, you’re incorrect, just coming off the street basically. And if you are too afraid to ask the questions, well, then you’re never going to acquire the knowledge to be successful. So, the key is to learn as much as possible, as quickly as possible so that they can get the background knowledge necessary so that they can be successful on their tasking. What we find generally, from my interns, is that they spend the first, you know, several weeks just trying to get all the IT access and all those types of things resolved, making sure they’ve got access to all the reference materials. And then once they learn as much as they possibly can, their really super high productivity period comes late in their internship, typically in the last like month or so. And so, by that period, it’s almost time to wrap things up. So, it’s critical, if you want to really stand out and to, I think, impress the organization that is hosting you, is to try to learn as much as possible, push really hard during that initial phase, so that you can come up to speed as quickly as possible to make real contributions. I would say that’s my biggest piece of advice is to just keep on asking questions until you really understand the material.

Leah Davis: And if I can add on that, I just wanted to add that, you know, another part of it, from the intern perspective, is getting to know your mentors and getting to, to meet as many people as you can in your experience, because it is so short and you can’t have a piece of every organization at NASA in that short time. So, getting to take the time and, and learn about perspectives of other people and really help shape your experiences in kind of the path that you want to go down is really important as well, so just getting to talk to as many mentors and as many interns as you can in your tour as well.

Host: That’s, that’s really key, Leah. And to build off of that and what Kelly was saying. Kelly, you were mentioning, ask a lot of questions, right? But I feel like to Leah’s point, you got to find the right person to ask the questions to, because it sounds like you’re a great mentor, Kelly, where you, if someone’s coming to you and asking a bunch of questions, even if they think they’re dumb questions, it sounds like you’re the person that’s going to help them, that’s going to spend the time answering their questions. Not everyone may be like that. So, Leah, to your point, you got to find the right person that can guide you, that can be your mentor, if, if not everyone’s blessed with a Kelly to help them along the way. So, Jaden, have you found a good mentor to lean on?

Jaden Chambers: Oh yeah, absolutely. One of my first weeks I was provided with my mentor and he just guided me so much throughout this entire transition, you know, through this internship. Whenever I have questions, I can go to him. He’s the one that takes me out on center, helps me understand condition assessments, walkdowns and all that stuff. But I really do believe a good mentor is essential to success. If you have a bad mentor, and whenever you ask questions they kind of just shut you down, you’re not going to learn, you know; you’re not going to be able to build off of the knowledge that you’re gaining through this internship. By having a good mentor that kind of facilitates your success, kind of teaches you what to do, helps you understand the process, you are kind of setting yourself up for success. And I’m kind of gaining that experience right now. A project that I’m working on, I’m leading two other interns, and this is really my first time, not really mentoring but kind of leading other interns in a project like this, and it’s really teaching me a lot. It’s really making me appreciate the things that mentors do for you, you know, like Kelly, my current mentor as well, they do really, really amazing things for the interns. And I think it’s really important to understand that it’s definitely not easy to teach, it’s not easy to kind of facilitate that type of success. So, I guess I’d really want to thank Kelly as well, you know? The fact that he’s a good mentor as well and kind of bringing that to the Johnson Space Center, I think is incredible.

Host: Yeah, that’s, that’s really key. I was, I was fortunate enough to have a lot of good mentors. I had a lot of busy mentors too, some that, you know, even though I wanted to ask a lot of questions or follow along, they were just, you know, they were either traveling or they were doing this, that, or the other thing, and I couldn’t quite tag along, so. One of my, one of my things that I did, to, to stand out was, if my mentor was too busy and I couldn’t, I couldn’t latch myself on to find a good project or be assigned a good project, I would just go out and find some way that I could contribute. And so even, you know, if, if because like, like the, another general theme is there’s only a certain amount of time that you have to give an impression. And so, if I, I had an agenda, you know, if I wanted to really make an impression, whether or not my mentor was going to assign me work to do it, I was going to go out and find, find good ways to contribute. And so, and so that’s what I did. And it sounds like that’s the general theme here, is each of you have given examples of just the hustle and the dedication that you have, you know, if you’re given a very short amount of time, that’s, you’re going to take advantage of that to its fullest potential. You know, you only have a little bit of time, so let’s make a difference while we’re here, because you really, you really do want to stand out.

Jaden Chambers: I completely agree, Gary. I think this all really ties into initiative. You know, I believe every effective intern has initiative. Rather than just sitting around waiting for opportunities or tasks to drop in their hands, they pursue them. And that doesn’t just apply to an internship, it just, it also applies in life, you know? Successful people don’t sit around and just wait for things to drop in their hand; if they hear about opportunities, they take them. If they don’t see opportunities, they look for them. So I completely agree what all three of you guys, with what all three of you guys are saying. This is a mindset that will really help people no matter where they end up, just make sure you have initiative.

Host: I love it. It seems like you guys are all working on some, some really interesting things and, you know, there’s a lot, there’s a lot to look forward to, particularly now with, with human spaceflight for sure, but just, really all across NASA, there’s a lot of cool stuff. Leah, you mentioned you were really excited for potentially, you know, working really hard on the Starliner and seeing that launch. What else are you looking forward to by the, by the end of your internship?

Leah Davis: So, I have definitely, probably, annoyed — my team asking for work and asking for on console opportunities. Like, like you guys all mentioned, the initiative is definitely a really big part of my internship, and especially in flight operations; you really have to have that to be successful and, you know, help get a mission from start to finish safely and get our crew home. So, for my internship, I am definitely looking forward to CFT for Starliner, and then, also just getting to kind of see what happens on station and getting to read about all the experiments therein and then making some progress on getting some flight controller training under my belt because that’s not something I’ve been able to experience before this internship, so that’s been really neat. And just getting to go back on-site and enter our post-COVID world has been also really neat and really exciting as an intern, getting to be back on-site.

Host: Very exciting. Jaden, some of the things you’re looking forward to, kicking off the summer?

Jaden Chambers: Well I just want to start by saying NASA’s provided an amazing foundation for me as an aspiring engineer. Just being a part of this organization has provided me, and I’m sure Kelly and Leah as well, with so many opportunities; it just leaves the door open for opportunities to flow in, you know? Even things like this, this podcast, it just came out of nowhere. Just for working at this organization, like just for working for NASA. Podcasting, included in articles, it’s just been an incredible experience, and the fact that NASA is giving me, Kelly, and Leah this ability to leave an impact any way we can, just by taking these opportunities, is just incredible, you know? I, I just feel like a normal person, you know? Then people go up to me and they’re like, “what, you work at NASA, that’s crazy, oh my gosh.” When they hear about, like the things we, we do as well, they feel, they tell me that they feel inspired and motivated and they say that’s the way they want to end up. And I just, I think that’s an amazing feeling, being able to leave that impact on people. So, what I really want to do is continue taking these opportunities and leaving an impact wherever I can. Whenever I get another opportunity, I really want to partake in it, because I’m sure someone, somewhere will watch it or hear it and be impacted by it, and keep in mind that they can also achieve their dreams and their goals.

Host: I love it. I love it. Kelly, some of the things you’re looking forward to coming up, not only for this semester, but since you’re full-time as well, some of the things you’re looking forward to?

Kelly Smith: Sure. I’m looking forward to the conclusion of my current project life cycle. So, we are, I lead the backup flight software team for Orion, and so I’m hoping that we have a successful project closeout for the Artemis II mission build, and that we start transitioning over into our Artemis III development efforts, where we get to redesign the control systems and to do a lot of other really amazing software development work, and guidance, navigation and control development work, to support the first human landing on the Moon since 1972. Additionally, I’m looking forward to eventually getting back on-site once the center reopens and being with my teammates once again. NASA’s been, you know, really accommodating and really flexible to make telework a success during the pandemic, but I am excited to get back on-site to continue mentoring young engineers and to kind of help people along their path to their, to their goals and to meet whatever it is that they’re trying to achieve. So that’s what I’m looking forward to. As well as the Artemis I launch coming up either this fall or early next year. Whenever it happens, I’m really excited about that.

Host: See, I’m blown away by just how many things are happening just in the near term. And all these students are going to be entering into at least human spaceflight for sure, but again, NASA as a whole, with some of the most interesting things happening all across, and it’s awesome to get so many talented people that are, that are driven and they have that initiative to, to pursue what they love and stand out to eventually work at NASA and make a difference. So, to each of you, to Jaden, Leah, and Kelly, thank you all for coming on Houston We Have a Podcast today, for sharing your story, opening up and telling us all about yourselves. It was really a pleasure for me to get to talk to each one of you today.

Kelly Smith: Thank you so much, Gary.

Jaden Chambers: Thank you.

Leah Davis: Thank you.

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Host: Hey, thanks for sticking around. Hope you learned something today from Jaden, Leah, and Kelly: all inspiring people, and I hope they inspired you to take that initiative whenever you land your internship, wherever it may be. Really do what it takes to stand out. If you’re interested in becoming an intern here at NASA, got a couple places that you can go to check out some of the opportunities and apply. Check out and also Don’t worry if you didn’t memorize that, just go to our episode webpage, we’ll have the links for you right there, either at the top or the bottom and you can go ahead and click and find the role that suits you best. We’re one of many NASA podcasts across the agency. You can check us out and some of the other podcasts out at If you want to talk to us, we’re on the Johnson Space Center pages of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can use the hashtag #AskNASA on your favorite platform to submit an idea for the show or ask a question, just make sure to mention it’s for us at Houston We Have a Podcast. This episode was recorded on June 14, 2021. Thanks to Alex Perryman, Pat Ryan, Norah Moran, Belinda Pulido, Jennifer Hernandez, Abel Morelos and Veronica Seyl. And thanks, of course, to the interns and mentor for taking the time to come on the show. Give us a rating and feedback on whatever platform you’re listening to us on and tell us what you think of our podcast. Happy National Intern Day! We’ll be back next week.