CLEVELAND, - 21 September 11
Caitlin Kavanaugh: Native American Intern Turned Model Coder
By: Heather L. Ogletree
When it comes to internship programs, the ability to match the right student to the right project is paramount. Similarly, it is just as important to match the right student to the right mentor and in cases where these three factors align, student learning and productivity skyrocket.
This was the case for Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) junior Caitlin Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh, a mechanical engineering major with an aerospace engineering concentration, took part in a 15 week NASA opportunity at Glenn Research Center this spring, developing her practical knowledge through the Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP). She said, “I love this internship because the project I am working on right now is what I would ideally be doing when I graduate. I love programming and engineering, and what I’m working on is a great blend of the two, a perfect fit!”
Donald Simon, Kavanaugh’s NASA mentor, explained, “The NASA Glenn Research Center is leading research in the area of aircraft propulsion system gas path health management. The objective of this project is to implement and evaluate on-board model-based aircraft engine performance trend monitoring and diagnostic techniques.”
Kavanaugh added, “I specifically worked in the area of parameter corrections, helping make the model even more accurate. As a test bed for aviation safety systems, it’s important to have these models be accurate as possible.”
Basically, Kavanaugh’s internship gave her insight into the integral relationship of coding, in MATLAB in this instance, and engine operation and performance. She said, “I never knew just how intricate an aircraft engine was until I was looking at a model code. It’s amazing how much engineering and science goes into developing not only the actual product, but a replica code.”
Previously, Kavanaugh had little experience working with engine models and she had only experienced MATLAB from the classroom. “I’ve learned so much about MATLAB and general coding practices,” she said. “Actually applying skills I’ve learned in class to a project has allowed me to fine-tune them and see a real world application. Working with engine models has been a great experience.”
Kavanaugh is a first generation college student, and now that she has interned at Glenn, she hopes to be a first generation NASA employee. Fortunately by interning with USRP, Kavanaugh was offered a co-op position and is well on her way through the NASA pipeline.