From Doing Research for NASA to Transferring to Virginia Tech: ASK ME ANYTHING!

@ak2018 is currently a rising junior at Virginia Tech majoring in Materials Science and Engineering and currently minoring in Mathematics and Green (Environmental) Engineering. He transferred from George Mason University after his freshman year and even with all of the ups and downs he faced as a transfer student, he has come to absolutely adore the Virginia Tech community and the accompanying quaint, little town that is Blacksburg, Virginia. Although he spent his first semester at Tech trying to acclimate to everything, he is slowly, but surely, starting to become more involved in clubs and organizations, his two favorite being the Virgina Tech Union and the VT Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. Moving forward, he would like to spend the last two years he has at the university to leave his mark and create a legacy for himself in the way of Ut Prosim, which translates from Latin to “That I May Serve”.

@ak2018 is proud to say that he is a Carnegie Mellon SAMS 2017 alum as well as VASTS (Virginia Aerospace and Science Technology Scholars), VESSS (Virginia Earth System Science Scholars), and NYSC (National Youth Science) program alums. The middle two are exclusive opportunities to high school students in Virginia, however, there are similar programs in multiple states. He would say that these programs really shaped who he is today. Feel free to ask any questions about application tips or more information about these programs. In terms of his actual high school, in his opinion, he felt like the average overachiever. A fair number of AP and dual enrollment classes, mainly in STEM, and pretty decent extracurriculars, his favorite being his school’s two robotics teams. He also loved volunteering, has done so since he was 12 and continues to help out with robotics teams in his area as an alum. In terms of his more numerical stats, he would prefer to not focus on those. The irony of the situation is, those scores truly lost their weight the second he made his college decision and became even more so irrelevant once he transferred.

@ak2018 thinks his particular college journey is so unique because during his first two years, for better or worse, he has attended a different school almost every semester but this past one (which has become a little joke among his friends and family). He is still nowhere near being an expert on how to accurately describe the college experience, but with his past four semesters having felt like each of their own separate realities, he can certainly try. Feel to ask me anything about life past the college acceptance letter as well as questions about the research he did his first semester at GMU, the semester abroad that followed, his internships and his overall freshman and sophomore experience.

@ak2018 will be our Guest Student of the Week so make sure to ask any questions you may have, especially about the university, his time spent studying abroad in Madrid, Spain, and anything pertaining to his very cutting-edge, and apparently first-of-its kind, planetary science research with NOAA and NASA and how he was able to start working with these organizations. And yes, for all those wondering, this pretty much all happened in the span of a year. GO HOKIES!

I’d love to know more about your work at NASA. What kind of internship was it? S19 just missed the deadline for fall internships but we’ve done some time on that website. Looks like you fill out the app and then choose a few projects and then they get back to you if you’re chosen but communication doesn’t seem to be so great. They don’t get back to you at all if you don’t get a spot. He’s thinking about applying for summer 2021 now. Is this how you got your NASA job, through their internship website? What was your project and what did you do in that role?

Can you also describe your experience in the Carnegie Mellon program and the NYSC program? Which year were you when you applied for those opportunities? Were they summer programs?

Hey @ak2018. I am a Parent of a Carnegie Mellon SAMS 2019 Alum and I wanted to personally say thank you as you were a great resource on the 2018 SAMS Thread that I followed. Your assessment of the program convinced my son to apply to SAMS in 2019 and his time there convinced him of his own career path (Computer Engineering). I wanted to ask you how hard was it to adjust academically and socially to college? Do you feel that SAMS helped prepare you for the rigors of college?

Hello @homerdog, I have done two internships as of now. One that was directly affiliated with NASA, during my first semester freshman year, and the other was mainly through NOAA’s CREST Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) program, with a local private university paying us as well as giving us room and board, the summer after my freshman year. I was planning on doing another internship through NASA this summer, but it got cancelled due to NASA’s pandemic response of making all internships virtual, if possible. While I was in CURE, which was my favorite of the two internships, I mainly did research with under a mentor I meant during my time at VESSS, a program that is sponsored by the Virginia Space Grant Consortium and NASA Langley. My research pertained to understanding and quantifying the amount of solar flux radiation we receive from extra-solar stars as well as how much of that radiation is blocked by transiting planets between Earth and the star, similar to the transit photometry method. If time allowed, which it did not, unfortunately, the plan was to discover a new method of extrasolar planet discovery and potentially get published. I, however, plan to continue this research once more in a few weeks once my summer classes end and throughout most of next semester. Also, the other internship I did for NASA was in data science at NASA Headquarters, where we mainly stored data from NASA’s instruments and made them more easier to interpret. My role, being a freshman, was minimal, and it was more “learning the ropes” repetitive tasks that I eventually got the hang of.

In terms of NASA’s internship application, your son is not alone. NASA’s OSSIP application, which I did use, is certainly not my favorite application website. Communication isn’t more transparent to avoid getting emails from so many hopeful interns, but I do agree, the website and application process needs a MAJOR improvement, despite the website design being slightly improved some odd months ago. And yes, you are correct about the rest of the application process. Best advice I can give your son is to apply early and check the website often as new opportunities pop up daily. Since he’s sophomore, he will much less competition for internships than say, a junior like me. Also, do not be afraid to pester the mentors with emails, because I have had so many of my intern friends say that while it may seem a little embarrassing to not get a reply, all you need is one good message to start a connection.

Lastly, I would say my SAMS and NYSC experiences were both fun and extremely different in nature. With SAMS, I spent six weeks in the summer of 2017 at Carnegie Mellon’s Pittsburgh campus taking college-level classes and doing research, all while trying to make lasting memories, connections, and friendships as we got to explore the city. We recently had a reunion on Zoom as well, which was fun. The National Youth Science camp was a lot more laid-back in terms of its structure and I like to personally call it a “Sleep-away camp for rising Ivy-league freshman” as so many of the campers were going to all these amazing schools. We spent three weeks in the summer of 2018 in rural West Virginia, where we were introduced to multiple science topics through morning and nightly lectures, had amazing food, and got to go on a camping trip every few days. As an alum, I cannot say too much as the program’s foundation is built on “every moment being a memorable surprise”, which was definitely for the better. Also, while some of us were terrified about going to rural West Virginia with no cell service (as in completely none) it was such a great way to disconnect from life and social media, and gave the camp this rustic, nostalgic feel. The alumni association actually stems back decades and is pretty tight-knit. The program is open to literally to all high school students across the world, which diversified the camp quite a bit. I plan on one day going back to camp as a lecturer, just to relive it all as it was truly a life-changing experience.

I hope I answered your questions. If you want more info on SAMS and NYSC, there are some threads on CC that can give you much more info. And I also happen to be a part of them.

Hi @ChangeTheGame! I am so happy that your son loved his SAMS experience and that it helped him decide that he wanted to do Computer Engineering. I sometimes look over those threads every now and then when they start to pop up in January close to when decisions are released, but I feel the alumni of the later classes have got it covered in terms of helping hopeful applicants.

I would say adjusting to college was harder some semesters than it was during others. I definitely did not make it easier on myself by choosing to study abroad so early in my undergrad and then transferring to another school where I had to socially start from the bottom by making new friends, like a freshman, once again. Being an introvert, I knew this was going to take a toll on me and lucky for me, I met some friends through a friend from high school and I would hang out with them multiple times through the week in their dorm. Being an off-campus transfer student, this definitely helped me feel more at home in the Virginia Tech community. They were really welcoming and were exactly the type of people I expected to meet in college as whenever I was bored or lonely, there was always something going on at the dorm that cheered me up. This was probably the closest I’ve gotten to seeing the social aspect of SAMS in college. Academically, it was just as tough. At the beginning of the semester, my advisor told me to expect a 0.5 GPA drop being a transfer student and my GPA definitely did something along those lines. Socially, being a transfer student is much like being a freshman. Learning all the ins of outs of campus takes time, and that time will most likely be in the form of mistakes and things you wish you knew earlier. This can also affect you academically, exhibited by my drop in GPA, which humbled me a bit. Also, SAMS definitely allowed me to get into the college mindset and made me much more independent than I already was, which showed mainly in my freshman year work ethic, where I took six classes and still had time to do research and an internship. Much of this was made possible mainly because my freshman classes were a breeze thanks to SAMS.

Really hope I answered your questions!


What is it you think that makes Virginia Tech so special having been at another in-state school?

Hi @cbl1 I think it would have to be the overall generally inviting atmosphere that is the Blacksburg community. I actually recently went back to move out of my apartment and met a few townies who helped tell me some pretty good food options around town, since I will not have a meal plan this upcoming semester. That combined with the memories I have made this past year, I truly wish I began my journey at Tech in the first place.

Hi @ak2018 - So amazed at all you’ve accomplished!

Having a major and minor, as well as numerous extracurriculars, would you say you are extremely busy? Is what you are doing something you feel many students could do feasibly? It seems overwhelming to me, but maybe a lot will change once I get into college!?

Thanks for doing this!

Hello @mczchl! The answer to your question about being busy is YES. 100%. And for me, that didn’t stop this summer as I am currently enrolled in three summer classes online. I’m usually a person that is terrible at time management and does procrastinate, and that definitely didn’t do me any favors the first semester I transferred. I was much better at it last semester, but to be fair, going to class on Zoom has about a two-minute travel time. :slight_smile: I am still working on my time management skills, even as a college junior, but they are definitely better than what they were years ago. I have started to use reminder and calendar apps to sync up my assignments calendar on Canvas to the calendar on my phone, which helps when remembering deadlines. I also plan most of the day in my head beforehand, so I can maximize my overall productivity (such as best time to go to the library, dining hall, etc). I think that some college students are doing similar things in terms of routine, especially since we’re gearing up for another semester of mainly-online classes. It definitely all seems overwhelming, so much so that many freshman I know are hesitant on joining clubs for the sake of their GPA. But if you plan accordingly and stick to it, you should be fine.

Thanks for the great question!

Hey there! I am a indian student want to study in us but my ecs are not strong i want to choos aerospace major so can you tell how i can get a internship in any aerospace company or any other things relate to aerosoace that i can make my passion profession

Hello, @F35lightning. In terms of choosing a school with an aerospace engineering major, Virginia Tech is a really good choice for this. However, in your case of being an international student, your biggest worry will most likely be paying for school as scholarships for international students are far and few between and it is assumed you will be paying near full-price cost of attendance. If this is not the case and you are planning on going into a career with an organization like NASA, or one of its contractors, I would say look at the usual top-ranked schools and then at state schools with aerospace majors. This will help you get a feel for what schools can do to help you achieve your goals as aerospace engineering is a smaller field, mostly since it doesn’t have as many job opportunities as other majors, or so I hear. I think Virginia, specifically Northern Virginia, is unique because of all the Fortune 500 companies we have here, some of which are NASA government contractors.

In terms of getting an internship, this is harder as, at least from my research, you will need to come to the US as a college student first before even being considered for some of the internships. Once you are here as a student, you will need to look at the internship application’s requirements very carefully, as they will usually say whether or not only US citizens can apply. I could be wrong, but most NASA internships are for US citizens only, and there are even fewer programs available for international students, depending on your home country’s relationship with NASA. The above advice still applies, you will just need to look for other organizations. Hope this helps!

Hey! I’m from NoVA & this area is pretty competitive in terms of college apps. What did you do to make yourself stand out among applicants?

Hello @Aisha50163, as was mentioned in the intro, one of the best things I did was apply to those summer programs my junior year. Being from NOVA and going a competitive high school, everyone tended to do pretty much the same thing in terms of ECs and taking AP/IB classes. All of the out-of-state colleges that I’ve talked to know how competitive the surrounding DC area is in terms of admissions, where doing an internship in DC in high school is becoming more and more common, so standing out definitely helps. Other than that, I made my interests well known in my applications.

Hi @ak2018! I am rising senior in NOVA, really interested in attending GMU. I was hoping you could describe your first semester at GMU and what were the key differences between the academic life and atmosphere of GMU and VTech? I was also hoping you could, tell us your expeirence about studying abroad- where did you study abroad? what was your biggest takeaway when you studided abroad? Thanks for your time! Looking forward from hearing from you!

Hello @larapink!

I would say that my experience at GMU, at least the first month, was the typical college experience. I went to my first college party, had my first college all-nighter, and other fun firsts. Freshmen tend to slowly become more disillusioned as the year goes on. But yeah, GMU is considered a commuter school and I definitely noticed this as someone who lived on-campus my first semester with the campus looking like a ghost town on Fridays and weekends. Also, firefighters were always around the school as the fire alarms are pretty wonky. The only big difference between GMU and VT was the social aspect, as VT is in the heart of a small town with a huge football program. As much as it offends my Mason friends, I prefer Tech over Mason in most categories.

I studied abroad in Madrid, Spain and it was alright. Because of my classes, I didn’t get to travel, go out as much, and felt pretty isolated because of it. So many people have better study-abroad stories, but even though I had an “okay” time, I kind of wish I studied abroad later in my college career. My biggest takeaway: simply being in another country thousands of miles away from home is an adventure in it of itself and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.