Students learn valuable lessons from internships

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“Coming back was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

Julia Worrell, a chemical engineering student, just came back to school after interning at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas for a year.

“Because being out there and basically getting to live real-life space camp, you know, eating lunch with astronaut; it’s crazy the opportunities I was presented with,” Worrell said, a hint of nostalgia under her breath. “I just did not want to leave.”

At first, it was a summer internship. Then it was extended. But she said she realized, with a little help from her mentors at NASA, that she needed to come back to Florida Tech to get her degree.

Worrell’s internship experience was life-changing for her, and she said it helped her choose what she wanted to do.

“I feel like a lot of students don’t know about the opportunities,” she said. “I feel like that experience just really was super defining and validating. Working for NASA has always been something I’ve wanted to do,” Worrell said. “I think a lot of the students here could benefit here from the program that I was in,” Worrell said.

Worrell is full of stories from her internship at NASA.

“I actually got to sit in on mission control when one of our CO2 scrubbers went down. and that’s basically what’s keeping the air pure so the astronauts don’t suffocate,” she said.

The flight controller setup has four computer monitors with displays, and those displays have tiny boxes with data, each with separate systems that need to be monitored.  

“When you’re sitting on mission control, it’s like being on a spider web. So everyone is super in tune with what everyone else is doing,” Worrell said. “It’s like a little headset with 30-something voices talking to you at the same time, all about different things.”

She also commented on how the politics of mission control with other countries is really interesting, making our emissions by carbon dioxide scrubbing in space. If the U.S.’s system goes down, we may be in a pinch and need to negotiate.

“I flew microgravity flights, but that’s a whole other story. That was something I got to design, build and operate,” Worrell said.

Kristen Safford, a sophomore in chemical engineering, described her internship as a defining moment as well. She used her internship as a way to gauge whether chemical engineering was right for her.

“It didn’t help me pick my major, but it helped solidify it,” Safford said. “Because I was a little iffy even freshman year. But after working under the engineer of the company, I was like ‘yeah, that’s what I want to do.’”

Safford interned with a small chemical manufacturer company up north called RSA Corporation for two summers.

“The first summer I worked there, they had me working in the quality control lab, and this past summer they had me working under one of the engineers,” Safford said.

She said the company is so small and family-like that she may try search for another internship to get a feel for what it’s like to be in a corporate setting.

Dona Gaynor, the director of Career Management Services, said students have many resources on campus to get internships and advice on jobs or career opportunities.

“You can work part-time, full-time, over the summer, during the academic year; whatever works out for the student and for the employer,” Gaynor said.

Her office connects employers and students together through a number of ways.

Gaynor’s office sends out targeted emails to students through the Panther Career Link, which each student has an account with if they log in and activate through Access. Then students can get links to job opportunities when it’s closer to their graduation date, or apply to them directly through the job portal. 

Gaynor said they also help international students find internship and job opportunities as well, even though it’s more difficult often because of federal regulations and sponsoring fees, particularly where Florida Tech is located because of defense contractors, and the location of many government-related and defense-related jobs.