Heads up sophomores and juniors: there’s an amazing summer program that you should apply for! It’s called STEM Enhancement in Earth Science, or SEES. It’s a free two-week internship through NASA where you work with scientists, engineers, and brilliant students from around the country to complete projects ranging from designing a CubeSat to coding programs to analyze satellite data. Four of our Back to Space Ambassadors were SEES interns; here are some of their stories and application tips, Q&A style!
Q: What team were you on?
Lisa: I was on the Aerospace Engineering team. My project consisted of designing a small satellite, a CubeSat, and planning its mission to map the lunar surface for volatiles. We did a lot of research beforehand and put the pieces together with our mentor, Dr. Fowler. We explored the different instruments we could have on board taking into account the size and power limitations. We also consulted with an engineer at NASA Ames to plan our satellite’s orbit.
Katie: I was on the Mars Exploration team! Funny story: Phoebe was actually on the same team the year before me! We were in charge of designing a habitat for a manned Mars mission. We had to think through so many aspects of the habitat: what happens if there’s a fire? What medical equipment should we bring? How big should it be? Our research culminated in a 40-page paper that our mentor, Dr. Humboldt Mandell, sent to the NASA Mars program manager.
Q: What was your favorite part of SEES?
Lisa: My favorite part of SEES was working on our project in small groups and getting to interact with such a brilliant and diverse group of people. I also really enjoyed our trip to iFly, indoor skydiving…how cool is that!
Katie: The people definitely made the program. It’s been almost nine months, but I still miss them every day! My team got really close, and we’d take over the conference room in our dorm to make blanket forts and watch movies. The work itself was so amazing, too. We also got to stargaze on the roof of the UT Austin astronomy building, meet astronaut Clay Anderson, tour the caverns outside of Austin, and explore the campus and city.
Phoebe: My favorite part was when we decided upon our landing site, because it was by far the most contested decision on the team. The team was split between support for two landing sites, and we had many passionate debates. I loved how there was no straightforward, obvious answer, so we had to focus on our mission objectives and reasoning skills as a team to come to a decision.
Q: One feature of SEES is a day trip to Johnson Space Center in Houston. How was that?
Lisa: Johnson Space Center was truly unforgettable. From waking up at the crack of dawn to getting a private tour of the Saturn V rocket, the experience was one of a kind. It was especially cool to have such an in-depth look at the daily operations like Mission Control working with the ISS in real time.
Katie: I was a Texas High School Aerospace Scholar earlier in that same summer, so it was incredible being back at NASA! I got to see buildings I hadn’t visited before, like the astronaut training facilities in Building 9 and the Astromaterials Lab with the vault where they store the moon rocks. The JSC trip was one of my favorite parts of SEES.
Phoebe: During the trip to Houston, we had an excellent tour guide who explained each part of the International Space Station model to us. He was explaining how his daughter had introduced him to the term “cupola” when we finally caught on… this man had named and helped design the Cupola model on the International Space Station! All the interns and I gave each other excited looks, our mouths hanging open. Another favorite memory of mine from the JSC trip was when we got to look in Mission Control. It was in that moment that I realized I want to work in Mission Control someday.
Q: Why did you apply?
Lisa: I was drawn to SEES in particular because it gave me the opportunity to study Earth Science, a topic that is not taught in my school. I knew it would be very hard to get this type of hands-on learning anywhere else. I mean, how many high schoolers can say that they spent their summer being a rocket scientist?
Katie: I found SEES accidentally– I was scrolling through NASA’s website one day and there it was! Unfortunately, apps had already closed, so I bookmarked the page and applied the next year. I want to work for NASA and be an astronaut, so I couldn’t wait to spend a summer exploring what I want to do!
Q: How did you react when you got in?
Lisa: I was in shock. I must have read the email five times before it finally started to sink in. I called my mom immediately and she was just as surprised. I had applied the previous year but had gotten denied, so I pursued High School Aerospace Scholars to learn more about Earth Science. After completing HAS, I gave it another shot and it definitely paid off. Spending those two weeks on campus at UT Austin was one of the highlights of my entire summer.
Katie: I was in my AP US History class! My parents texted “Congrats, Katie!” on the family group chat, and then I saw that I had unread emails. My hands shook as I read the email. I tapped my friend on the shoulder and shoved my phone at her, and we both celebrated. The minute the bell rang, I ran to my physics teacher’s classroom and danced around screaming and smiling.
Phoebe: I got my acceptance email while babysitting. The mom texted me, and when I unlocked my phone to reply, my email app had been left open and I saw the “Congratulations!” I wanted to freak out right away but instead I replied to the mom, kept babysitting the kids for the remaining hour, then afterwards sat in the car and screamed in excitement.
Now for the nitty gritty: applications. The process is more outlined on the SEES website, and if you Google “NASA SEES internship,” so many different YouTube videos will come up. A lot of the 2018 interns put their application videos on public to help out current applicants. The application requires some short answer questions and a video about yourself as well as a teacher recommendation. Our advice: don’t wait until the last minute! As of now, you’ve still got three days to apply– get it done early and have a parent or teacher read over your essays. Be yourself, and don’t be afraid to show off a little. Be detailed in your responses. We don’t know the ins and outs of the application review, but the mentors do read everyone’s application and will refer to them! SEES also wants both those with lots of STEM experience and those with a desire to explore. Don’t try to be one or the other– just show them who you are and where you are right now.
Lastly, don’t be discouraged if you don’t get in. In 2018 there were over 500 applicants and only 46 spots. There were kids who had done programs with the President who didn’t get in, while some people had done high school robotics and not too much else but still made it! You are still just as successful, valid, accomplished, and brilliant if you don’t get in as if you do. Take that from some seniors who just got done applying to college
Feel free to reach out to us if you’ve got questions– there’s a contact form at the top of this website, or you can tweet us at @B2SAmbassadors or reach out to us on Instagram at @backtospace_ambassadors. Good luck to all those applying and be sure to tag us in photos if you get in– we’d love to see what the next SEES class is up to! You’re going to do amazing things.
Don’t forget, applications are due March 1! Please share this post with your friends to let them know about this amazing opportunity. For more information and to apply, go to http://www.tsgc.utexas.edu/sees-internship/. Once again, good luck!