Paula McCarter is Interning With NASA

Paula McCarter is interning at NASA.

Paula McCarter is interning at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. As NASA’s first and oldest space flight complex, Goddard hires the brightest students in the country to be interns.

Paula is a junior in the Albert Dorman Honors College who excels in her major: mechanical engineering.  She first took an interest in engineering when she was 10. Her Girl Scout troop held a “women in engineering day” during which the girls worked on hands-on projects. Paula loved it.

So when it came time for high school, she applied to the Charter School of Wilmington, a school that’s nationally ranked for its excellence in math and science. There, she studied robotics and engineering and graduated at the top of her class. After she graduated, she applied and was accepted into the Honors College. She's not only thriving academically at NJIT but also socially: She belongs to the Sigma Psi Kappa sorority and is active on campus.

The Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation's largest organization of scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft and study the universe. Paula is excited to be interning there, and in this interview she discusses her job.

How is your internship going? Where are you based?

I am working at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, just outside of DC. I am in the Materials Science Building, on what is referred to as the campus. Everything has been going really well. I am getting to know a lot of people around the facilities and having lunch with people who are working on other projects here at NASA. So far everything here has been great. The people are very nice, always willing to help you when you need it. It is a great work environment and it's exciting to be doing such a hands-on job every day. We also have farmers markets on Thursdays, which is really neat.

What project are you working on?

Right now I am working on testing methods that will measure the thermal conductivity of different materials. Some methods already exist using a differential scanning calorimeter (DSC). I have been working on retesting and validating these methods so far. I make samples and run them in the machine.

Do you work in the lab and do hands-on research?

Yes, I make samples and run them in the DSC machine. Then I analyze the graphs and data, and run a few equations to find the actual thermal conductivity of the material. Then after I finish this part, I am going to work with my mentor on developing an infrared flash method that will allow us to accomplish the same thing. The difference is that only very small thin items can be used in the machine we use. However the infrared technique would be able to be used in any situation.

Does this work apply to your major, mechanical engineering?

This definitely applies to ME because it is...well I am basically doing heat transfer, which is a key course/part of mechanical engineering. You also have to know a lot about different materials and their properties. I think it is great that I am working on testing these different materials, because that is something I am really interested in. I am actually beginning to take courses for a material’s minor at NJIT next semester.

How did you get the job?

I applied online with the OSSI (One Stop Shop Internship) program. You have to get all of your information together before you can actually apply, but then you can apply for a lot of positions. Then, around Easter time I got an email that they wanted me to come and work for them! It was very exciting to get it and I’m having a great time.

(By Robert Florida)