NASA’s IV&V Internship


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Participants in NASA’s IV&V summer internship program. Image: NASA

The engineers at the front end of any product or project tend to get the bulk of the kudos handed out at completion. But the ultimate safety and success of any given project is dependent on those who use and create the tools of for independent verification and validation. Young engineers and programming prodigies with an interest in the crucial world of independent verification and validation can get a taste of it at NASA.

And they’ll get paid.

The agency has a summer internship available for 20 high school students and 10 college students. The students work on real projects created by someone in NASA that needs real help. “We have a standard solicitation period where we send a call out to our program employees stating, ‘Hey, if you would like to be a mentor, or would like to have a project for whatever session the interns are going to be here, submit a proposal,” says Jess White, NASA’s education specialist with IV&V. “That proposal is then leaned against a rubric that I put together to score them. Then I rack and stack them and send them to senior leadership.” With approval, those jobs are posted on the agencies, intern portal.

Typically both White and the senior leadership are looking for projects that meet three criteria: what is the value to the student; what is the value to the program; and will the students work on projects that will actually be used. “The number one thing that I hear from students that they love is that what they built for the summer isn’t going to be shelved. It’s a real product, a real tool that will be used upon their departure,” says White. “They get real experience.”

High school interns Tori Snyder and Eric Post test the properties of solar cells. Image: NASA

They may develop a white paper, a tool, or a process. That can include the installation and configuration of operating systems, data analysis, and developing applications for the programs to be used on specific NASA projects. This coming summer there will be an energy efficacy project to examine how lighting is used in the agency. One recent intern did analysis and modeling of an instrument on the International Space Station, a carbon dioxide removal assembly. “The high school students got an idea of what a computer scientist or software engineer might do for a career,” says White. “It might have been a little bit above them but luckily our mentors are so good, saying, ‘Hey these are the basics, can you help me do this and then I’ll show you the next step.’ Give them bread crumbs and walk them along a path.”

Whatever the project they may be working on, students start the summer with an orientation day followed by a week of heavy reading. “I cover it all,” says White. “Don’t put water in the coffee pot, because it’s already pumped in.” Once the projects begin in earnest, White makes sure to spend some time “flushing them.” In the cubicles, the nervous, eager-to-impress students tend to hide. So White brings them to the break room and introduces them to other employees.

However important the work done in the IV&V department, a good deal of the work tends toward the dry. So White is sure to take them around and see what other areas of the agency are doing, such as some of the robotics programs. “Some of the projects might be really heavy into documentation,” says White, “We give them an opportunity to enrich their experience by viewing and participating in at some level those other activities.”

During the final week the students present formal, poster presentations. “These are very, very professional looking foam-core board posters with their project, what was their goal for the summer, what they did to achieve, was it achieved, and what they would do differently in the future. It almost looks like a science fair, but without gadgets.” The next day they head to D.C. and put on the same presentation at NASA headquarters.

“The overall goal is that the students leave NASA smiling,” says White. “I firmly believe that the way we do internships is very healthy for the students. I care less about what we get out of it than what they get out of it.”

Michael Abrams is an independent writer.

The number one thing that I hear from students that they love is that what they built for the summer isn’t going to be shelved.

Jess White, education specialist, NASA

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February 2015

by Michael Abrams, ASME.org