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Two interns, one science story: How creativity propels science communication at NASA

NASA interns
Kate Jolly (left) and Taylor Hart (right) at the entrance to NASA's Langley Research Center. (Photo: NASA eClips)

Article by: Kate Jolly and Taylor Hart, NASA interns 

“NASA’s next urgent mission should be to send good poets into space so they can describe what it’s really like.”  Dangerous by Shannon Hale

Endless questions, scientific curiosity and novel creative approaches fueled a summer long internship with NASA for two senior undergraduate students. Kate Jolly, a student at the University of Tennessee, and Taylor Hart, a student at Saginaw Valley State University, interned this summer with the NASA eClips™ team in Virginia. Neither of them had considered science communication for a future career, but as a result of this summer internship, they fell in love with working alongside the diverse teams within the NASA community. Throughout their internship, they learned the value of creativity and innovation. Here is their collective story about their initial interests in science and the spark that led them to NASA.

Scientific curiosity: We were the children always asking questions  

Hart: My scientific spark moment hit me when I was about eight years old. As a kid, I remember telling everyone that I wanted to be an infectious disease specialist and study the parasites of the Earth. I watched countless medical documentaries growing up, captivated by bacteria that seemed to only exist in the science fiction world. My fascination with space science was the catalyst that led me to explore opportunities at NASA.

Jolly: For me, my passion for science stems from my fourth-grade geology presentation during science night at my school. I taught everyone who stopped by my display about sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks. From that point, I was hooked on learning and sharing everything I could about the natural world. That enthusiasm continued to grow, and I am now studying geology as my minor. Both Taylor and I remember wanting to work for NASA in our adolescent years, but never thought we would find a place with them.

Our summer internship journey: What we learned and accomplished 

Jolly: Our exploration for internships began with internet searches of science positions aligning with what we study in our majors. Both of us were surprised by the variety of non-STEM internships and applied to many positions within the  Internship and Fellowship program at NASA's Langley Research Center.  After completing the applications in April, Taylor and I received offers for the Science Communications Internship.

Hart: After being hired, Kate and I were able to meet virtually and begin our projects with the help of the NASA eClips team from the National Institute of Aerospace. Together, we worked with a team of STEM education specialists to develop multimedia content highlighting NASA science, missions, technologies, and subject matter experts. Some of the projects we worked on included videos, presentations, social media content and graphic designs.

Jolly: Within our first week, we created a video for the  NASA eClips Spotlite Design Challenge and a presentation for summer camps. Taylor and I also produced videos about the NASA eClips educator guides, focusing on  best practices and  demonstrations. My favorite project was working on social media content. Together, we created engaging posts to build awareness for NASA events and videos for the NASA eClips Facebook and Twitter sites. Our efforts increased the overall engagement for both sites.

Hart: We got to participate in several virtual meetings with other creative NASA teams to discuss content creation strategies. One of our most exciting real-world experiences was being part of the team interviewing Dr. Gioia Massa and Jacob Torres, subject matter experts from the Kennedy Space Center who study growing plants in space. Developing videos to showcase art created for the James Webb Space Telescope art contest was another one of our favorite projects. You can find my “Unfold the Universe” video here and Kate’s video here.

Jolly: Additionally, Taylor and I traveled across the country to attend three professional outreach events in Virginia. Each of the events allowed us to explore new places and learn to communicate STEM activities to audiences we’d never presented to before. Watching the people’s faces light up throughout the events reminded us of how important STEM education is for all ages.

Looking at life through a creative lens 

Jolly: People often think of creative inspiration being attached to the arts, but creativity is a vital element of projects in STEM and at NASA. My favorite form of creative expression is through dance; I have been dancing for 16 years. By experimenting with different styles of movement and music genres, I create new pieces of work, similar to how I create projects with NASA.

Hart: I enjoy expressing creativity through writing, illustrations and graphic design projects. I have been creating a science fiction novel series since I was 16 and have dreams of someday publishing. Our work as a team serves as a great example that science and art go hand-in-hand. Creativity is one of the influential elements that helps scientists at NASA complete missions and solve problems. Kate and I believe the intersection between arts and sciences are what can inspire the children of today to explore a future career at NASA.

Our message to future interns 

Hart: Internships are both learning experiences and great opportunities to grow in any field of study. We encourage young people to look into internships and explore opportunities in their communities. There are a lot of things we would share with future interns. One would be to listen to your mentors, as they want to help you make the most out of your experiences. Additionally, we would emphasize sharing your creative ideas, for no idea is too small to become an interesting project. Finally, we would express that interns should never sell themselves short, as their work is vital to making a difference.

If you or someone you know would like to be a part of the diverse community of NASA teams, we’d encourage you to explore NASA's Langley Research Center's internship pagewith opportunities offered year-round.