Updated: Jan 17, 2019
NASA’s doors are not just open to scientists. Communications students also intern for NASA.
Salisbury University students Haley Weisgerber and Megan Miller interned at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) over summer break. They shared their experience working at NASA, where rockets are launched into outer space—as communication arts majors.
Weisgerber is studying public relations communication. Miller is studying media production.
Weisgerber spent 10 weeks as a communications intern. She worked in the public relations sector and on NASA’s promotion on social media.
Lori DeWitt, chair of the communications department, reached out to Weisgerber and told her that Wallops Flight Facility would fund her internship if she applied and was chosen. Wallops Flight Facility typically funds physics and engineering students, which makes Weisgerber’s experience atypical.
The Wallops Flight Facility is owned by the Goddard Space Flight Center, which is owned by NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Wallops was originally a naval base, and it is actually older than NASA.
Weisgerber was a contract worker for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), which funded her internship. She worked on social media platforms for the Visitor Center, she educated students about NASA’s history and she gave tours to visitors.
She took “their creations and their developments” and turned them into “something that the public can understand.” She crafted messages for the public about what NASA’s scientists and engineers were doing, without all of the scientific jargon.
She said she got to witness a sounding rocket launch herself, and it was incredible. The payload was actually designed by college students.
“The cool thing about my internship is that there was no typical day,” Weisgerber said. “People our age were sending things off into space, and it was the coolest thing to see.”
She said a common misconception about NASA is that only scientists and astronauts work there. She said there are actually no astronauts there, and they only send objects to space, not people.
Weisgerber was surprised to learn that there was an opening for a communication arts student at NASA. She said she never thought she could work in a scientific organization because science is not her strong suit.
“I think that was really cool because I’d never even considered NASA a possibility until I received that email from Dr. DeWitt,” she said. “I think that seeing it hands-on rather than in a classroom piqued my interest.”
Weisgerber keeps in touch with all of her “NASA family,” and she says they have become her “lifelong friends.” She said she connected a lot with her supervisor Rebecca Hudson, who is an SU alumnus.
“[Hudson] is the most incredible woman I have ever met, most kind-hearted woman in the entire world,” Weisgerber said. “She is so good at her job, and I have learned so much just from working with her.”
Weisgerber expected to be working people with whom she could not communicate because she did not have a background in science. She said she did not know much about sounding rockets or scientific balloons, but they wanted to help her learn.
“They were very encouraging, very supportive and very patient,” she said. “It’s a great organization to work for, and I would do it again a thousand times if I could.”
Although she does not have a background in science, she has been interested in Wallops for years. Her grandparents are from the area, so she has been watching the Wallops rocket launches with them since her childhood and always admired their work.
“Every time there’s a rocket launch, we all stand out on the pier and watch the Wallops rocket go off,” she said.
Program Implementation Specialist Megan Miller worked in Greenbelt at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Exploration Space Communications (ESC). ESC works hand-in-hand with the Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program office at NASA Headquarters.
She was mentored by Sandra Vilevac, who works for Intern Coordination and K-12 Workforce Development at the Goddard Flight Center. Miller applied twice for her internship and got the job the second time.
Miller worked as a coordinator for the NASA interns. She said she took headshots of the interns, documented their experience working at NASA, made video montages of the interns for SCaN to use in their internship recruitment process and assisted her mentor Vilevac in creating press releases and gathering information.
Miller was drawn to the idea of being one of the few creatives working for an organization that is primarily known for its STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program. As a media production major, she submitted a portfolio with her photography, videography and writing samples.
She felt some familiarity with NASA, though, because her father Ron Miller is a project manager at NASA, which made the experience more “casual” for her. She said her father even took her there for Take Your Child to Work Day.
“After a few weeks, we became desensitized to the fact that we were working at NASA,” Miller said. “It was just a usual thing because I felt like I was so accustomed to it.”
She said engineers are detail-oriented, but she is “big-picture-oriented,” so she had to learn a new communication style to talk to her colleagues. She enjoyed spending time with her colleagues and learning about them through their “diversity of ideas,” but she had difficulty communicating with them in a professional sense at first.
“Being a creative person in that STEM space was cool because I learned how to work with people who didn’t understand how I thought,” she said. “I learned to explain production in a way that I never had to before … really detailed and step-by-step, not just big-picture.”
She learned more about her own communication style through her experience. She took the Myers-Briggs Test and learned her personality type was called the “protagonist,” or ENFJ (Extraversion, Intuition, Feeling and Judging), and she realized that the people she got along with best had the same personality type as her.
Miller credits her major for helping her to navigate professional relationships. She said communications majors learn to communicate with a wide range of people.
“Communications majors in general are very good professionals because they know how to be professional, because that’s what we learn about,” Miller said. “Oftentimes, I feel like science, technology, engineering and math majors focus so much on their craft that they’re not really sure how to make professional relationships.”
Miller encourages her fellow communications students to apply and apply again for NASA because they are expanding to accept more non-science majors. She says there will be more opportunities for communications students in the coming years.
“I just never thought it was a reachable thing … students don’t know this is a very reachable company and organization,” Miller said. “It was wild that they had a position that fit me because everyone thinks it’s STEM and only STEM, but there are a lot of creative positions.”
By MELISSA REESE
Featured photo: Senior Megan Miller poses in front of the NASA building where she interned this past summer (Contributed images).