Helping students get their start in engineering and science, The

Aerospace Corporation: Helping students get their start in engineering and science, The

Daugherty, Sharon Nicole

In a world where everyone travels on the Information Superhighway, technology is called upon to change in the blink of an eye. Students are finding exciting career options in engineering and science; a field where new ideas and technical expertise are not only accepted, they’re expected. According to the 1998 congressional report, Women, Minorities, and the Disabled in Engineering and Science, African Americans and women represent less than 10 percent of the professionals in this field. Companies are now seeking more talented minority graduates. The competition is keen, and experience is crucial. Internships are a great way for you to get insight into your field and catch the attention of employers. One company that is helping students gain relevant experience and an introduction to the world of work is The Aerospace Corporation.

Established in 1960, Aerospace is a non-profit corporation that provides scientific research, development and advisory services to agencies and organizations with national interest. Their primary work is hands-on engineering in the design, test, evaluation, and initial operation of space systems. In addition to their space-related technical support services, they operate a federally funded Research and Development Center for the Department of Defense.

Aerospace operates a Summer Intern Program at their El Segundo, California headquarters. College students are assigned to scientific, technical, or administrative areas of the company. The Internship program seeks science, engineering, computer science, and mathematics majors normally in their sophomore year. They offer paid positions and interns are placed based on department needs, and the interest and experience level of the student. Elaine Harrell, Human Resources administrator at Aerospace, cites several things that an internship candidate should possess. “The ability to work independently or with a team, follow directions, and be goal-oriented are qualities that we like to see in an intern.” Harrell advises students to show interest and initiative.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” she says. “The more questions you ask, the more aware of you we are.” Asking questions helps you understand your work and relate it to what you’ve learned in class; it also helps you decide if you have chosen the right career. Harrell also encourages students to find a mentor within the company; someone to talk with about the experience, to ensure you are getting all you can from the program. Expressing what you have gained from your internship is an important part of the program. In several divisions, students are required to give a presentation to the general manager on projects they have worked on. This sharpens communications skills and builds confidence. It also shows the company that you have developed, and that you would benefit from returning to the program the following year. Harrell states that the potential for a continuing relationship with their interns is another quality Aerospace looks for.

Terita Norton is one such intern that Aerospace gladly invited back each year. An engineering graduate of Florida A & M University, Terita participated in the Aerospace program from her sophomore year until graduation. Terita entered the program hoping to gain insight into the engineering industry. She looked forward to meeting new people and developing her networking skills. Her experience gave her these `people skills’ and some others she didn’t expect. “I got to work on projects with different people. I learned that you have to be able to understand other people’s views. I’ve been given experience with coming into a group and working toward the group goal.” The flexibility that Aerospace allows their interns to have in learning other things was of great benefit to Terita. Although engineering was her major, she wasn’t sure exactly what area she wanted to specialize in. While interning, she had an opportunity to observe an area of engineering that was more interesting to her, and she will be focusing on that area electrical engineering in graduate school.

Terita’s twin sister Terri, who also majored in engineering, also used internships to help select the field that she now studies in grad school. Although they did not participate in the same internship program, they echoed each other’s sentiments on how internships help college students. “Internships are a big help. When you’re in school, you’re learning the basics, not `real-world’ problems. You understand books, but technology grows and changes so fast, things can quickly become outdated. Internships keep you aware of what’s happening right now in your industry, and they help you know what to look for when you go to work,” said Terri and Terita Norton.

Relevant work experience, strong interpersonal skills, and a desire to develop as a professional are qualities that every business and industry seeks in a candidate. College internships with companies like The Aerospace Corporation can help you find those qualities in yourself, which helps employers find those qualities in you. For more information on The Aerospace Corporation’s Internship Program, call: (310) 3365000, or e-mail Suzan Barbee at

Sharon Daughtery is a contributing writer.

Copyright Black Collegian Oct 2000

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