CAPE CANAVERAL, Flor. – 16 JAN 13
Ransom and Nicholas: Launching into STEM Careers
The ultimate goal of NASA internships is to prepare students for STEM careers — in industry, at NASA, or in education — and this fall, two such interns who worked on the same project at Kennedy Space Center accepted industry positions, cutting their internships short to begin their next chapter in life as STEM engineers.
Both Khadijah Ransom and Stephanie Nicholas, students at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, were part of the Shuttle Case Study Collection project, Kennedy’s newest education resource website, under the mentorship of Grace Johnson. Nicholas explained, “The website is being developed to promote the use of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) material in secondary and post-secondary engineering curricula.” Ransom added, “Case studies focusing on decades of history surrounding NASA’s shuttle program are combined into a single data base. These case studies are written to expose students to the many engineering decision and troubleshooting techniques related to the maintenance, processing and launching of the shuttle vehicle.”
This fall, Ransom, a graduate student studying mechanical engineering, and Nicholas, a senior aerospace engineering student, became the first interns to take part in this endeavor. Nicholas said, “I have watched the project grow from ideas on paper to an almost fully functional public website. I have been able to take part in not just a project, but an initiative to utilize more STEM content in our nation’s schools.”
In order to be successful, Ransom and Nicholas chose to divide, consult, and conquer their website development tasks while staying within the constraints of NASA’s Content Management System (CMS), which ensures site compliance with NASA rules and regulations. Ransom confessed, “I have never considered team work a strong skill of mine. However, I grew to truly appreciate and count on Stephanie’s input and viewpoint. It was OUR project, not hers’ or mine.”
According to Nicholas, “Designing a website is similar to putting together pieces of a puzzle. Parts of the site have to created individually and then linked together to create the finished product.” However, when designing a government site, both Nicholas and Ransom found that the creating and linking each piece within CMS took much trial and error. Ransom said, “It can be difficult to combine pages using the provided templates.” Nicholas agreed and expounded, “In some instances, the actual content of the page needed to be revised in order to maintain compliance….; the system constrained some content to a specific location on the page. Sometimes these locations clashed with layout designs previously created on paper, but adjustments were made to provide the best possible experience for public users.”
Prior to taking on this project, both interns had minimal experience with HTML programming, but before to leaving Kennedy for their new positions in the workforce, they gained this skill in addition to the skill of writing case studies, a wealth of inside knowledge about the human space flight program, and a passion for STEM education outreach.
Nicholas reiterated, “Providing a new and creative way to incorporate STEM material into classroom will, hopefully, restore an interest in these fields and in NASA. The Shuttle Case Study Collection website is not just a project, it is an initiative.”
Ransom predicted a chain reaction of impact: “Teachers are going to access our website and share our case study reports with their students. They’re going to read our reports in their classroom and participate in interesting debates over the mission decisions. Teachers are going to develop other activities to enhance the reports and share them with other educators. Additional content related to the shuttle program will be developed as volunteers submit their own case study reports to our site for review. Students will be inspired to learn more about NASA and shuttle missions. Maybe we can educate young kids who never considered engineering as a career to become an engineer like myself. I think our impact is limitless and will continue to grow throughout the years!”
For both Ransom and Nicholas, the opportunity to work at NASA strengthened and confirmed their commitment to engineering while providing them with an arsenal of skills to be successful in their new positions. Ransom is now employed with the United Launch Alliance as a Structural Engineer II who will provide engineering support for the Delta IV rocket, and Nicholas is working on Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation’s Black Hawk Helicopter Project as a Human Factors Engineer.
Their NASA mentor, Johnson, commented, “They are still highly invested in this project and are looking forward to Googling our website and downloading the cases they wrote. I know they will continue to excel because they are serious about what they do, and they take pride in what they produce and how they represent themselves. This quality of student (now professional) does not come a dime a dozen.”