top of page

How to best prepare your child for a bright future? - Advice from NASA Intern Alumni

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

Invest in unbound creativity!

EVIDENCE: Take examples from NASA's Intern Alumni.

Have your children look at the stars and imagine everything they want to become. Give them the gift of creative problem solving and watch them carve their own path.

As an educator, I’ve worked with thousands of students. The thing I look for and cultivate in each child is their inner creativity. If they have a bright creative light inside of them, I know they will go through life with a resilient point of view, one that allows them to always see more than the situation at hand; they can imagine their own future. With creativity, students continuously solve problems and construct knowledge. With creativity, they see every situation as new and as an opportunity.

Unbound Creativity

Students need to learn unbound creativity early on in life. Really, young children are naturally creative, it is other factors that encourage them to turn it off. I am very passionate about this topic and I want to highlight some bright, creative young adults. I had the pleasure to meet them in the NASA SCaN Intern Project from 2014-2018!

I believe the core of all of these students is unbound creativity. They mix that with content knowledge, driving them into the careers of their dreams. They all came to my office doorstep with the same dream: to work for NASA! Since little kids, they looked at the stars and knew NASA could take them there. I was the doorstep to their dreams.

Star Students

The following article is about bright stars, NASA Interns and the program I built to give them the opportunity to polish and promote themselves, their work and their creativity.

Many parents think that it is grades, achieving straight A’s, that is the most important thing to encourage in their children. Parents have the misconception that grades will get their

child where they want to go. I argue that is not what you should be focusing on with your children and I have the evidence from some very inspiring and successful NASA Interns.

NASA Interns debunk the idea that the perfect student high school graduate has straight A’s, many club activities, second language, sports, robots, etc. We didn’t look for grades. We had a specific list of qualities that we looked for in students. It started with them being “Humble and Hungry”! That is the core for the creative innovators we needed to perform the challenging missions at hand. When students possess humility and hunger and unbound creative skills, they can think for themselves and they have the ability to think outside the box.

Creative Mindset = Humble and Hungry

When interviewing, we'd filter students who had experience with the content of the position. After, we had a unique approach. We learned to listen carefully when interviewing students for a creative mindset. We listened for their ability to have vision, to communicate their ideas and create something new.

"Humble and Hungry" is a creative mindset. These students were willing to roll up their sleeves and try something new. It also meant they knew they did not know everything and they were always willing to listen and learn. Those two words were our secret sauce. If a student did not have both, they would not be able to complete the rigor and demands of our program. Our program required students to contribute. We didn't want robots, we wanted to hear fresh and new ideas.

The exact juxtapositioning of humble and hungry allow students to know how and when to develop and contribute their creative ideas.

Where are they now?

Testament to the program and these student's creativity: seeing where they are now. One Fall night in October, 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic, we met to cultivate a creative and positive future vision. We caught up about what they've done since their internships. Warmly, they also shared advice to young students today.


I had the honor and privilege to work with some of America’s top talent. I was approached by Dr. Harry Shaw, NASA Engineer, with a vision to create a program with the following objectives:

  • Find top talent to contribute a fresh point of view to NASA's Missions.

  • Cultivate a rich network of NASA mentors who are willing to pass down their knowledge.

  • Create a program that polishes and refines the talent for the workplace.

  • Give students opportunities to contribute their ideas and inadvertently become potential employees.

These four prongs became the backbone of the SCaN Intern Project. As the Program Manager, my key stakeholders were NASA SCaN, NASA’s ESC, and NASA STEM Engagement. I was fortunate to have many supporting resources that included: ASRC Federal, Bowie State University, Harris Corporation, Morgan State University, MICA and University of New Mexico.

Here's the Program we created!

(Produced by Meg Miller - SCaN 2018 Intern)

Students worked hard everyday. We balanced it with fun, enrichment and camaraderie. This video captures the events scheduled for professional development.

Building The Program

Students came to work at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center for six (high school) or ten (college) weeks. But before students even got there in June, the program started the November before. By cultivating a network of trained mentors, we assured our program would produce real work, contributing to existing developments. Our mentors were hand selected and trained to assure they matched the values of the program: servant leadership, hands-on work and empowerment.

When recruiting for interns, diversity was our priority. We hosted students from private and public universities, community colleges, HBCUs, Technical Colleges and Art Colleges. On average, we had equal female to male participation. The priority our mentors looked for in an applicant began with our target profile. This profile withstood the test of time and continuously gave us the students who matched well with their mentors, the vigor of the work and NASA culture.

It was not easy; it was meant to be that way!

We figured, if a student wants to work at NASA, they need to earn their way in. Once NASA Management knew the rigors of the program, many were interested in direct recruitment, knowing our students were the best of best in all dimensions, not only their content area, but also their creative contributions.

I had a strict schedule that was clear to the interns from day one. They completed a day of orientation on their first day that included a Meet and Greet tha covered their goals, teams, requirements and support system. Within week one, they participated in the STEAM Innovation Boot camp that was a sample of their whole summer in one day:

  • Create a project based on your customer’s needs

  • Define the mission, promote the mission and sell the mission.

They worked in teams and presented their process and product at the end of a long eight hour day’s work. There was a lot of support provided outside of just their mentor. I served as their liaison to all services provided by NASA and NASA’s STEM Engagement that included: talks, luncheons, mentoring, service opportunities, poster sessions, workshops, clubs, etc. I also provided workshops on: Art and Creativity at NASA, Meet and Greet Luncheons with Management and Targeted mentoring sessions that included “Working at NASA As A Woman In STEM”.

(Interns problem solving in the STEAM Innovation Boot Camp)

The Biggest Challenge

The overall goal for the students and the unique feature that made our program unique was that they had to do a ten slide, ten minute presentation to NASA management. They had clear guidelines and a template that provided their talk track. Students shared their backgrounds, their process, their product and their future goals. Normally, students only have to prepare a poster of their work. This elevated their experience to demonstrate their communication skills as well as innovative problem solving they encountered during their process and experience. These two factors spoke to management about their ability to contribute innovative ideas.

The key to successfully completing the final presentation was student creativity. They knew in the beginning of the summer they needed to fulfill this daunting task. They created a vision for themselves and kept it. Their creativity led them to this point and now it was time for them to shine. This was their opportunity to share their creative vision for themselves at NASA and in STEM.

Here is the work that students completed in my last summer at NASA, August 2018

(Video produced by Meg Miller - 2018 SCaN Intern)

Concluding remarks

It brings me great joy as an educator, facilitator and program manager that the program I built still exists today and continues to impact and inspire the alum and current and future interns.

This article is dedicated to one of the best mentors I have ever had, someone who always had time for me to create, problem solve and give feedback. Someone who is endlessly dedicated to researching new electrical engineering and health concepts that contribute to our world’s overall health and still has time to pass down his knowledge and support new students everyday. There are many students who equally thank you for your tireless efforts: Dr. Harry Shaw thank you for everything you have done and continue to do to build an innovative workforce that impacts our whole world. You are truly my hero!

Special thanks from all of the 2018 NASA SCaN Interns

Additional special thanks to:

Badri Younes, Barbara Adde, Bob Menrad, Dave Israel, La Vida Cooper, all SCaN Mentors, George Bussey, Tom Gitlin, Niloo Naderi, Ryan Turner, Bob Gabrys, Raquelle Marshall.

Special shout out to Jimmy Acevedo for continuing the program tirelessly. He has since grown the program to be year round.

I would not have been able to do any of this without your support, encouragement, feedback and guidance.

Recipe for success

If you’ve made it this far, know I’m sharing some secrets to helping your children follow their purpose and passion in life to fulfill all of their dreams.

Teach them to:

  • Be humble and hungry

  • Practice unbound creativity

  • Give gratitude to those who mentor and support them

  • Take initiative and leadership when available and needed

  • Teach their knowledge to others

  • Push themselves to be comfortable with being uncomfortable

Thank you for reading.

Contact us if you have further questions.

Danielle Fieseler and Sandra Vilevac (me!) relieved after the Final Intern Presentations!

Students Interviewed:

Natalie T.

Caleb Crawley

Emily Ragan

Melchizedek Mashiku

Danielle Fieseler

Alexandra Doten

Monica S.

Video content by:

Meg Miller

115 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page