West Lafayette “townie” Forrest Son, traveled far from home, all the way to Huntsville, Alabama, for the opportunity some of us only dream about, the opportunity to work at NASA. And not only once, but twice! Last summer he participated in the NASA Propulsion Academy’s 10-week internship program at the Marshall Space Flight Center. The program combined technical work with tours, volunteer opportunities and seminars with NASA leaders (yes, including astronauts!). As a mechanical engineering student and a former member of the Purdue Solar Decathlon team who helped his team make it to the International Solar Decathlon Competition, Forrest was well prepared for his position at NASA. The second semester master’s student sees himself working at a place like NASA if not NASA itself once he graduates.
Q: What attracted you to the company/position?
A: I had worked the previous summer at NASA and learned about the academy internships from my mentor. I was impressed with the incredible opportunities the position offered.
Q: What was the hiring process like?
A: For my first internship at NASA, the previous summer, I was a volunteer intern. I reached out to several employees at NASA until I got a response and was offered a volunteer position. For the Propulsion Academy Internship, I applied online and received an offer during the spring semester; there was no interview.
Q: Can you tell me a little about what your overall experience was like working there and what your typical day was like?
A: In addition to working with my team on our project, there were seminars, tours, and activities. The goal of our project was to design and build a space vehicle avionics package validation system to test new flight controllers for rockets. I spent most of my days designing parts in CAD, machining, and assembling the test apparatus with my team. During a typical day, I would CAD new parts, conduct structural and functional analyses, and attend a lunch or evening lecture.
Q: Did you get to meet any of the astronauts/see any old space ships?
A: Yes, Astronaut Josh Cassada is a NASA academy alumnus, so he came out to Huntsville to meet with us. He even took the time to let us snap a selfie! During my internship I also volunteered at the local NASA museum so I was able to see a lot of space hardware.
Q: What was the coolest part about working at NASA?
A: Besides the incredible projects, I would have to say the privilege of working with some of the best engineers and scientists in the world. I was able to meet with people who had worked on the Space Shuttle, and are integral members of the team developing the Space Launch System.
Q: Do you feel that your past internships helped prepare you for this one? If so how?
A: My first NASA internship prepared me very well. I was able to learn how projects were conducted at NASA, and what it took to be successful in such a short time.
Q: What did this job teach you about yourself?
A: The most valuable lesson I learned was that I actually enjoyed engineering. It can be discouraging going through difficult classes, and I honestly didn’t know if I was pursuing the right career path. After my internship at NASA, I realized that engineering could be fun and exciting!
Q: Where do you see yourself working post-graduation?
A: I see myself working for a government laboratory like NASA. I enjoyed the fulfilling and challenging work during my time there, and I was very impressed with the work-life balance culture.
Q: How do you feel that your education at Purdue helped you while working for this company?
A: The academic rigor of my classes prepared me for many technical challenges. My numerous group projects prepared me to be a contributing member of my teams during my internships.
Q: What career readiness tools have Purdue provided you with?
A: The CCO has several useful tools for helping with career development. I participated in Blueprints, a CCO program aimed at improving job and internship search efforts. I learned how to take advantage of the many career resources at Purdue and beyond.
Q: What career advice would you give to underclassmen?
A: Don’t be afraid to take a volunteer internship opportunity, I will be doing my fourth internship this upcoming summer, and it all started with being a volunteer. My biggest regret is that I didn’t consider doing a Co-Op. It is the best way to jumpstart your career and to gain a ton of experience; it is very worth it to delay graduation. Reach out to EVERYONE in your network, you never know which two minute email you send will result in the opportunity of a lifetime!