EL PASO – 09 Mar 11
USRP Supports 2011 UTEP Leadership Conference
By: Heather L. Ogletree
“Transform Your World. Shape your Life. Shape your Future.” seemed to be a perfect fit for the 2011 University of Texas
El Paso Leadership Conference. The event brought together over 150 UTEP students with members of academia, industry, and government for a day of professional development, cultural understanding, personal growth, and ideas.
Ryan C. Holmes, Assistant Dean of Students from the Office of Student Life, explained, “This conference experience offers college students the preparation, knowledge and skills to become dynamic and motivational leaders within the higher education and global settings.”
This theme also proved to be a perfect fit for NASA’s largest national undergraduate STEM internship program, the Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP), which urges STEM undergraduates to “Find Your Vision.” *OSSI SOLAR Broker Facilitator’s Holly Triska and Cathalina Juarez invited USRP to join a panel of current NASA Engineers and USRP interns to discuss “Pathways to Success – First Hand Accounts from a Panel of NASA Professionals.”
So on Feb. 18, I convened with White Sands Test Facility (WSTF) engineers Miguel Maes and Darren Cone, as well as USRP students Logan Ream and Chris Hart, in order to provide UTEP students with a realistic and inspiring vision of NASA.
Thirty eager students filed into Barry Room 316 of the University of Texas El Paso (UTEP) Student Union Building Friday to get the scoop on NASA; the good, the bad, and the astronomical. The students had already heard from NASA Student Ambassadors about internships, and had been motivated by the commencement speech of Former Astronaut and current director of engineering at Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems, Danny Olivas, so now it was our turn to share our NASA knowledge and history.
For USRP interns Ream and Hart, this was a bit different, as they had only been at NASA for a little over five weeks. However, Ream stated, “I wanted to serve on the panel because it was an opportunity... and I would hate myself for not taking a shot at something new like that.”
So while the UTEP students were getting invaluable inside information about internships from the USRP intern perspective, Ream and Hart were getting to test out their communication skills in the public arena. “I think the conference had a huge impact on my professional development,” said Ream. “Sitting on the panel gave me valuable experience presenting to a group of peers. I also learned a lot from the other panelists about what it is like to work for NASA.”
Other than painting a clear picture of the NASA lifestyle, panelists emphasized the skills needed in order to obtain a position at NASA, citing personal experiences. Maes stressed the importance of participating in extracurricular activities in order to build leadership, and both Maes and Cone agreed that being able to work in a team setting is critical to success at NASA, letting students know there is, in fact, a reason why professors assign group projects. They added that throughout their careers, they have used all the engineering classes they took in college in one way or another. I emphasized the role that internships play in the pathway to NASA, making sure to mention how internships allow students to network, build communication skills, to understand NASA culture, and to get the professional hands-on experience that is required to be competitive in the STEM industry.
Ream noted, “I learned you’re never too young to carry a business card.” Maes, Cone, and I all agreed and encouraged UTEP students to get business cards, because you never know who you might meet.
"Only one of the panelists had a straightforward path that began with a NASA CO-OP and led to a full time position as a NASA Engineer,” said Jennifer Allred of WSTF, who served as the panel moderator. “The other panelists all had experiences that involved convoluted paths that resulted in NASA employment, such as working in industry, enlisting in the military, serving coffee at Starbucks, and working at a clothing cleaners.”
Allred also commented, “I appreciated that the panelists were upfront about their careers, and while they all found their jobs very rewarding, they admitted that there were frustrations and down sides to working for NASA.”
The pitfalls of “red tape,” “hurry up and wait,” “paperwork,” and “not enough engineering in my field” were brought to light. However, the panelists explained that these were necessary evils of career advancement and of being in the federal or corporate arena.
The panel turned out to be a successful collaboration between the Hispanic College Fund, USRP, and NASA, inspiring the future STEM workforce and informing them of the tools they will need along the way. I think Olivas put it best in his opening speech, “Follow your passions and use those talents to help the world around you. There are no limitations; there is a universe of possibilities.”
* The Hispanic College Fund (HCF) is a partner in NASA’s One Stop Shopping Initiative (OSSI) for internship, fellowship, and scholarship opportunities. They support students at Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) who wish to apply for opportunities at NASA as Broker Facilitators. This is one of many recruiting events held at HSI’s and conferences around the nation.