WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, Va. — Only five community college students from across the nation were selected in August to intern this fall semester at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the eastern shore of Virginia near Chesapeake Bay. Jennifer Kramarz, a 2018 Trinidad State graduate, is one of them.
“The amount (of knowledge) I gained from the robotics team and from Cynthia Clements (Trinidad State mathematics instructor and robotics advisor) is just phenomenal,” said Kramarz. “Without that, I would not be doing this internship at NASA right now, without a doubt.”
The Wallops Flight Facility is primarily a rocket launch site to support science and exploration missions for NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and other federal agencies. Kramarz said they work with sounding rockets, which are smaller rockets “but are no less valuable when it comes to gathering science and data.”
Interns must be United States citizens and be able to stay on site for an entire semester. For her specific internship, NASA wanted an NCAS graduate. Of the five current interns at the Wallops Flight Facility, she is the only one who had that qualification. NCAS, NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars, is limited to only community college students.
In February 2018, while still attending Trinidad State, Kramarz completed a five-week online class, learning about NASA and creating a concept design of the next Mars rover. She used the knowledge about three-dimensional (3-D) CAD software (Computer generated designs that can be printed in 3-D form to exact measurements) she learned as a member of the Trinidad State robotics’ team. NASA liked her design. She was one of 40 students nationwide selected for an all-expense paid, fun, four-day trip to Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
Students were organized into teams to build little Mars rovers out of Legos. She enjoyed meeting like-minded students from all over the nation and the experience came with some added perks. Students also learned how to apply for internships and how to write a stronger resume. They were also offered recommendation letters from the mentors they had.
Each intern at NASA has a mentor. Kramarz’ mentor is “doing a lot of community outreach for grades K-12,” she said. For her project Kramarz is using a kit called V5 made by the VEX robotics company. “Everyone is raving about it,” said Kramarz. “Schools are wanting help in using the new kits.” Her job is to create a demo robot using a V5 kit.
Kramarz was one of 17 in her 2016 high school graduation class from Hoehne, Colorado. She started taking college classes from Trinidad State when she was a junior in high school. She knew then she wanted to do something with computers.
While working with the robotics team at Trinidad State, she learned about computer engineering (hardware) and about computer science (programming). “I got to test the waters for both of them,” said Kramarz, “and I think I definitely enjoy computer science.”
She must. Since her arrival in Virginia on August 26, Kramarz has designed, built and programmed a robot. The robot needs to be drivable with a controller (similar to an Xbox game controller) and also needs to do some maneuvering autonomously as well. It has to search, locate an item, pick it up with its claw arm and transport it to a given location. She didn’t like the way the default controller was programmed so she reprogrammed it her way. In another month Kramarz will complete the autonomous part all while she’s working on two other programming projects. The robot Kramarz is creating will be used as a demonstration robot to instruct teachers and students on its proper use.
Her mentor wants her to use her time and experience at Trinidad State on the robotics team as an idea of how to approach teachers to use the robots. She said she would probably approach Clements for advice on how to teach students. “She (Clements) by far greatly influenced me and helped me every step of the way. With all of her years of experience, she knows how to teach so students understand,” said Kramarz. It was Clements who emailed Kramarz about this internship opportunity and said, “This is something you are well qualified for. I think you should try it.”
Clements said about Jennifer, “She really made the most of her time at TSJC by pursuing every opportunity available to her. She joined the robotics team as a senior in High School and then stayed on the team for both years at TSJC. She was Electronics Lead for the team that went to Johnson Space Center in Houston and co-captain for the team that went to the Mars Desert Research station in Utah. She applied for each and every Space Grant opportunity by getting accepted in to the NCAS program and for the Rock On workshop at Wallops. She grew tremendously in self-confidence and skills with every undertaking.”
“It’s a wonderful work atmosphere, very friendly,” Kramarz said about the Wallops Flight Facility. “I’m greeted daily by people I don’t even know. The people here enjoy what they do and they’re passionate about it. I’m just an intern here, but I’m being treated like an equal.”
“I believe I have a foothold now to do what I want,” she said. She plans to pursue her work in aerospace, hopefully with NASA, but first she will return to UCCS (University of Colorado at Colorado Springs), where she is a senior and complete her computer science degree. “I’m kind of excited to see what happens after this. I want to do impactful things, things that change the world.”