For their intern classes, the Jet Propulsion Lab in La Cañada Flintridge is working on diversity as a core value and making sure interns get a chance to show their best work.
JPL welcomed their summer of 2022 class of interns Thursday with opening speech by the institution’s director and a seminar led by one of its fellows. The incoming class of interns spends 10 weeks working on specific projects and participating in enrichment activities.
JPL Director Laurie Leshin said JPL works hard to make sure it has a diverse group of interns, and to ensure that the students have a great experience this summer at the leading center for robotic exploration of the solar system.
The incoming class is more diverse than the national demographic average, with almost 50% women and a quarter from underrepresented groups, Leshin said.
Adrian Ponce, deputy manager for the education office at JPL, said that to help increase diversity and inclusion, they are working with four historically Black colleges and universities to bring students and faculty to JPL for research experiences.
Students often face imposter syndrome, which is loosely defined as doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud, and it can be even more acute in underrepresented communities, he said.
“The idea of bringing in not just undergrads, but grads and faculty from those [historically black colleges and universities] is to create and bring a little bit of the home institutions here, at different levels of experience,” Ponce said.
Ponce added that JPL wants to invest and focus on individuals from all underrepresented backgrounds and are working on some strategies to achieve that.
The program is also working to make sure that interns gain specific outcomes.
Interns learn through hands-on and class work to help inform their desired careers, while also building skills such as bettering their communication and their ability to work in multicultural environments. Additionally, JPL hopes to help them understand how their projects fit into the broader picture of NASA through enrichment activities like Thursday’s seminars, Ponce said.
Leshin started off Thursday’s seminar by welcoming the new interns.
Leshin said that the work done at JPL contributes to others and helps inspire them. She added that she hopes that it inspires the interns.
“This is what binds us together, is this ability to look beyond and be inspired and feel that awe of what’s possible” Leshin said.
For the rest of the seminar, interns heard from Shouleh Nikzad, science division manager and a JPL fellow.
Nikzad discussed some of her work, involving the signature of material in ultraviolet light — which is a type of electromagnetic radiation that makes black-light posters glow. She also discussed some of the technology she uses in her work at the lab, such as telescopes and tools for nanoscale work.
Some projects can take a long time, but perseverance and curiosity are important, she said.
“You have to be curious, ask the questions, ask questions of ‘how else can I do this measurement and persevere’?” Nikzad said. “It’s not an accident that those rovers have been called those names — but that’s what you need.”
During the Q&A portion of the seminar, Nikzad said that interns should have fun during their work, and find something they really enjoy in order to become successful and passionate.
“You can do a lot of things in science and technology, but you have to find what really speaks to you,” she said.