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Computer Science Major Interns at NASA
A confident young woman strides into your office for a job interview. You flip once more through her resume, which was hauled in several days ago by a moving crew. Your desk creaks ominously under its weight.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Ms. Allman, you say, extending your hand. “Tell me about your experiences with NASA.”
Erin Allman’s dream of working for NASA began when she was in seventh grade, and selected as one of the outstanding math and science students at her junior high in Lake Ozark, Mo. She and a group of other advanced students went to the Kansas City Space Museum to participate in a mock mission.
“Some of us were in mission control and some of us were in the space station doing math/science-related things,” Allman said. “At the time, I said, ‘You know, this sounds like fun!’”
During her junior year in high school, Allman went to the Space Academy in Huntsville, Ala., where she excelled to the level that she was selected to fly a mock six-hour mission. She went on to graduate valedictorian of her high school class, having prepared for her future while playing every sport she could.
As she completes her major in computer science at Southeast, Allman’s dream draws closer to reality by the day, and she was close enough to taste it last summer, when she completed a six-week NASA-funded research program at the John F. Kennedy Space Center.
“I applied last year for a program they do every year where they select 20 to 30 students,” Allman said. “Around spring break last year, I got a call that said I’d made it.”
She describes the program as similar to an unpaid internship in the sense that she didn’t draw a salary, but all her expenses were covered.
“It was pretty exciting when I found out I didn’t have to pay for travel, lodging or food,” she said. “Everything that you do down there is paid for. We even went to several theme parks and they paid our tickets into those. Not getting a salary was an OK trade-off, I think.”
The project Allman worked on was one of several ongoing research projects begun by NASA scientists.
“They stuck all 30 of us with a scientist and we helped them finish their research,” Allman said. “Basically, the scientists gave us the research projects that they’d already gotten started, and we finished them and did all the lab work.”
When the research projects were completed, the students presented their findings to the director of the Kennedy Space Center and other NASA scientists.
Allman was outside every day doing fieldwork, which forced her to adapt from her area of expertise.
“My field of study here at Southeast is computer science,” she said. “When I was there, I was doing environmental work, researching birds. So it really wasn’t anything that had to do with my major. I’d never done anything like that, but I had a great time.”
There were three groups in the program: ecology, flight and biology. Allman applied for the ecology group in the hope of being assigned to one of the computer science-related programs.
“I didn’t have any idea what I’d actually be doing until I got there,” she said. “There were three other computer science majors there, and they all got a computer-related research project ᾰ I just happened to be the one that didn’t. But I actually got to bring some stuff to my overall presentation with my computer knowledge.”
Among the challenges Allman faced during her NASA experience was the scientific writing aspect.
“I’d never done any kind of full-on research project before,” she said. “I mean, I’ve only written papers here, like in EN-140, so the most challenging thing was how to write a five-page proposal to do the project. And I had to present the proposal a week and a half in, so I’d barely gotten to know what I was going to be doing when I had to present it to everyone.”
After she graduates with her degree in computer science and her minor in accounting, Allman hopes to attend graduate school and then get a job at NASA. Currently, Allman works for Sports Information at Southeast. She is a fanatical St. Louis Cardinals stalwart and an intramural leader for the Baptist Student Union.
“I play just about everything,” Allman said. “So far, I’ve played soccer, basketball, softball and volleyball.”
She is a senior community advisor, a position she enjoys because she makes friends easily and likes living on campus.
“I really enjoy just hanging out,” she said. “There’re always people around, and I’m close to everything. I like living on campus because I feel like I’m in with what’s going on.”
Without a doubt, she is a person with out-of-this-world credentials, rock-solid faith, stellar athleticism and excellent community involvement. In addition to her NASA aspirations, Allman hopes to get an internship with the St. Louis Cardinals organization before she blasts off to graduate school.
"I’m thinking I might as well get some of these fun jobs out of the way because pretty soon I’m going to have to start working for real,” she said. “I figure, what the heck? Apply!”