For their training classes, JPL at La Canada Flintridge works on diversity as a core value and making sure that trainees have a chance to show their best work.
JPL welcomed the 2022 Summer Interns class on Thursday with an opening speech by the Foundation’s Director and a colleague led seminar. The next batch of interns spend 10 weeks working on specific projects and participating in enrichment activities.
JPL Director Lori Lichen said JPL is working hard to make sure it has a diverse group of interns, and to ensure students have a great experience this summer at the leading center for robotic exploration of the solar system.
Coming seasons are more diverse than the national demographic average, Leshin said, with nearly 50% of women and a quarter of them from underrepresented groups.
To help increase diversity and inclusion, they’re working with four historically black colleges and universities to bring students and faculty to JPL for research experiences, said Adrian Ponce, deputy director of the Office of Education at JPL.
Students often experience impostor syndrome, which is loosely defined as questioning your abilities and feeling deceived, and it can be more severe in unrepresented societies.
“The idea of bringing not only undergraduates, but graduates and faculty from these [historically black colleges and universities] is to create and bring in a few local institutions here, at different levels of expertise,” Pons said.
Pons added that JPL wants to invest and focus on individuals from all underrepresented backgrounds and is working on some strategies to make that happen.
The program also works to ensure that the trainees obtain specific results.
Interns learn through hands-on and classroom work to help inform their desired careers, while building skills such as improving their communication and ability to work in multicultural environments. In addition, JPL hopes to help them understand how their projects fit into the broader NASA picture through enrichment activities such as Thursday’s seminars, Ponce said.
Leshin kicked off Thursday’s seminar by welcoming the new trainees.
Lichin said the work done at JPL contributes to and helps inspire others. She added that she hopes to inspire trainees.
“This is what binds us together, this ability to look beyond and be inspired and awe at what is possible,” said Leshin.
For the remainder of the symposium, interns heard from Cholle Nikzad, Director of Science and JPL Fellow.
Nikzad discusses some of her work, which involves signing materials in ultraviolet light – the type of electromagnetic radiation that makes black-light posters glow. She also discussed some of the techniques she uses in her lab work, such as telescopes and nanoscale working tools.
She said some projects can take a long time, but persistence and curiosity are important.
“You should be curious, ask questions, ask questions about ‘How do I make this measurement and persevere’?” Nikzad said. “It’s no coincidence that these compounds are called by these names – but it’s what you need.”
During the Q&A portion of the seminar, Nikzad said interns must have fun while they work, and find something they really enjoy in order to become successful and motivated.
“You can do a lot of things in science and technology, but you have to find what really speaks to you,” she said.