HOUSTON – 24 June 11
Matt Noyes' Journey Through the STEM Pipeline
By: Heather L. Ogletree
For the past year, Matthew Noyes has been part of the NASA Johnson Space Center family in Houston. However, the Rochester Institute of Technology junior began his NASA interning career as an Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP) intern at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in spring of 2009. During his three tours with USRP, he has gained over 11 months of hands-on experience working on high profile projects such as the Launch Control System Dashboard at KSC as well as ALHAT, the iMorpheus app, and the HDU app at JSC, while making a big impression on his mentors, the JSC/KSC communities, JSC Director Mike Coats, and even NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.
To top it off, in his "free" time he has mentored middle school children for the BEST robotics competition, directed a NASA Spinoff's video, took ballroom dancing classes with fellow USRP intern Emily McBryan, tweeted for NASA, wrote for the USRP HUB, and even found time to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. He may have a full schedule, but his extraordinary organizational skills have him always asking for more. Yet, in the end it has payed off: he has won two JSC Outstanding Intern awards and has been selected to participate in the JSC co-op program.
Below you will find his interview where he gives his take on NASA, USRP, and everything in between.
1. What do you like best about STEM?
Science, technology, engineering and mathematics [STEM] change the world. They are tools by which, when forged in the kilns of inquisition and knowledge, societies transform through the ages. They are topics of conversation for the avant-garde. They are set pieces, and all the world's a stage. I love the sense of awe they imbue when I learn about them; I love the sense of pride in human progress when they improve our lives. But what I like most about them, is that I cannot see myself doing anything else. Because of them, I will never have to "work" a day in my life.
2. Why do you want to work for NASA?
NASA is more than a space agency – it is an inspiration agency.... NASA defines the imagined futures of a nation. It is a testament to ingenuity and resolve. It shows our youth what it is possible when we have a dream and follow it. I was inspired many years ago by the accomplishments of those that came before me, and I want the next generation to experience the same catharsis when they look up at the stars and think to themselves: "we've been there."
3. What challenges have you faced in regard to your project?
A tough challenge in any project is determining how to build upon a strong foundation. Developing a complete and functional engineering product involves quickly learning the positives and negatives of a variety of technologies, judging whether they fit the requirements, designing new solutions that surpass current performance, and figuring out how to put everything together so nothing breaks. It demands strict time management, partitioning your day into progression and communication tasks. That is by far the biggest challenge — dividing your time so that you excel at what you do. There is so much you can do here; it may be overwhelming if you aren't careful.
4. What aspects of your internship are you most passionate about?
I am passionate about having my work used by astronauts and engineers, being a gateway for the public into the inner workings of NASA, [and] conquering all the complex and abstract technical challenges a job like this brings. But what I learned I am passionate about most of all is simply working with passionate people; the chance to be a part of a team that transcends traditional thinking in pursuit of a dream beyond themselves, the dream of human spaceflight.
5. What have you worked on at NASA JSC and what has been the impact of your work?
- I have worked on several projects at Johnson Space Center:I helped build a cockpit mockup which is being used for astronaut crew evaluations of autonomous landing and hazard avoidance technologies.
- I worked on a website for said landing technology to increase the public's understanding of what NASA does.
- I worked on software for touchscreen tablet computers to aid engineers in field-analysis tests of next-generation space habitats and laboratories.
- I designed software for geologists to study the surfaces of alien worlds.
- I developed live 3D telemetry visualizations for a new rocket design to be used for public outreach and, potentially, engineering analysis.
The projects I have been lucky enough to work on will have impacts both inside and outside of NASA; I owe all of my thanks to our wonderful teams within the software, robotics and simulations branch, and to USRP for this opportunity.
6. How has volunteering impacted/enhanced your internship?
Volunteerism has been an integral part of my experience. I have had the privilege to teach children about robotics, box food for the homeless, build a house for a poor family, and make a video advocating NASA, among other activities. I have done many of these things with my fellow student interns; [i]t has brought us closer together with each other, to those whom we have helped, and to the society in which we live. The people I met, the people whose lives I touched, whose lives touched mine, have redefined me as a person.
7. How has USRP helped you realize your goals? Describe the opportunities you have encountered because of USRP.
USRP has done so much for me. It has introduced me to some of the most brilliant people on the planet, has shown me sights of enormous historical and practical significance, [and] has given me the chance to work on the most exciting technical projects I have ever seen. I have mentored and judged robotics competitions, have helped university students with their design projects, [and] have attended countless conferences and lectures by high-ranking NASA officials, including JSC Center Director Mike Coats. I have [also] personally tasted-tested new foods for the International Space Station crews, landed the orbiter in a motion-based shuttle simulator, went for a jog on the C.O.L.B.E.R.T treadmill, supported missions within the Mission Control Center, [and] have designed software to be used by astronaut-scientists. I have personally shown my project to Charlie Bolden, the NASA administrator, who graciously shook my hand and told me it was impressive. None of this would have been possible without USRP. Coming to NASA has changed my life; so I say thank you, USRP.
8. What words of advice do you have for future interns?
The downside of working here is that there are too many things to do in too short a time. Take advantage of them all. Hit the ground running, and don't ever stop after you cross the finish line. Run down the sidewalk to the dirt road. Run down the dirt road to the country road. Run down the country road to the county road. Run down the county road to the fork in the road, and pick a path that suits you, even if it's the one less travelled by. If you hit a wall, go around it. If you can't go around it, go over it. If you can't go over it, go under it. If you can't go under it, go through it. Walls aren't there to stop you, they are there to give you a chance to prove yourself. Treat every obstacle as an opportunity and every failure as a future success, since you won't make the same mistake twice.
As an intern, I had to apply many, many times before NASA would give me a chance, and when they did, I gave it my all. I have made my own share of mistakes and failures, but I never let that get in the way of progress. I am not proud of failure, I do not like to fail, but I leverage its momentum to buttress my passion. Whether failure ignites or douses your resolve is up to you. All I know is that in my youth I remember sprawling beneath a charcoal sea veiled by distant, twinkling islands of light embroiled in a fierce cosmic waltz as a beast stirred deep within me, parted its jaws, and howled at the moon.