NASA recently accepted its fourth cohort of Student Ambassadors. These exceptional individuals engage their fellow undergraduate and graduate students in NASA science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), as well as participate in research and immersion opportunities. They collaborate with and inspire their peers, make professional connections and represent NASA to the public. We have invited some of them to share their stories here. This week, Shujaat Ahmed, from the industrial/organizational psychology program at Illinois Institute of Technology, describes her NASA experience.
When people think of NASA, they usually think of engineers or scientists. Truth be told, there are other areas within NASA such as human capital that also support the mission. Having said that, I think it is important to point out some of the work these lesser-known areas do and the contributions that are made to the exploration mission. I would like to start by highlighting some of my experiences and why it is helpful to NASA.
To start off, I initially became involved in NASA after a friend who was majoring in computer science told me he was interning at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory during the summer of 2008. Since then, I realized NASA did have an internship program for students. However, only after I researched the web and found the website listed with various opportunities (a couple of which were in my field), was I aware that I could have a remote chance of being a NASA intern. Being a psychology student, I felt unique during my two internship experiences in that I was surrounded by mostly engineers but I was alright with it. While I may not have understood difficult engineering concepts outside of my major, I brought a different perspective to the table given my diverse educational background and experiences.
During my first internship in the summer of 2010, I conducted a study examining the personality traits of NASA Marshall Space Flight Center engineers and the impact that had on the structure and culture of the organization. This study is important because it suggests that in order for this organization to thrive and be effective in a business environment that is characterized by change and competition, the engineers need to be able to adapt.
My most recent internship during the summer of 2011 involved using workforce analytics to guide succession planning within Goddard Space Flight Center. Here I analyzed 10 years worth of data for the engineering directorate to find gaps in the analyses and determine where the directorate needed to fill the gaps. This work is important because it has brought that directorate and GSFC one step closer to having a formal succession plan in place. I am positive my work will help prepare the engineering directorate and GSFC in identifying, assessing, and developing employees to make certain they are ready to take on key roles when the person higher up in their pipeline leaves, while ensuring knowledge is successfully passed on to and retained by the employee assuming the new key role.
In both of my internship experiences, I am honored to have played a role (indirectly) in trying to keep NASA alive as an organization and to keep moving forward. This is because of the influence and impact of the internship projects I mentioned earlier have had in helping NASA employees adapt during the economic turmoil and in retaining knowledge for developing employees as they fill in new roles when a person leaves. While I am excited to have been given opportunities to make an impression, my journey with NASA is not over yet. In the future, I hope to work at NASA fulltime, improving different areas within human capital management, whether it is implementing more effective training strategies, helping with employee productivity and engagement, or something else. I want to continue supporting NASA because ever since I became a part of this organization, the people around me have been very kind, caring, and the climate and culture at NASA is priceless.
In closing, I hope my experiences have shed light on some of the work that other areas, such as NASA’s office of human capital management are involved in. More importantly, I hope I have provided some motivation to people to stay focused and be engaged in NASA’s mission because NASA’s best resource are its people and it is up to all of us to make a difference.
You can learn more about available NASA internships here.