By Eric Feldman
How many students can say they played a role in communications efforts for the NASA SpaceX Crew-1 launch in November? And how many are currently laying the groundwork on messaging for astronauts’ return to the moon, Mars and beyond?
A trio of FIU interns have done just that and are completing their semester of service within the Office of Communications at NASA. The students are Lazaro Bosch, a digital media and communications major; Nickolas Gonzalez, who is earning a master of arts in global affairs; and Alex Martinez Rivera, an international relations major.
They each landed the opportunity after completing a virtual fly-in hosted by The Talent Lab at FIU in Washington, D.C., which allowed them to learn about career possibilities and how policies are made in the nation's capital. The students also earned the “DC Advocacy, Communications and Careers” digital badge, which verified and displayed their competencies for such a role in government communications.
The interns are working under FIU alumna Bettina Inclán, the associate administrator for communications at the space agency, and are funded through FIU’s Make a Difference-DC scholarship fund.
“NASA is more than a government agency,” Bosch said. “It is a family that has welcomed me and polished my skill sets to prepare me for where my next mission may take me in my career path. This internship has helped shape my aspirations to becoming a science communicator in public service.”
All three interns agreed on the importance of effectively communicating science and scientific information, which they discussed during a virtual conversation with Inclán and Mireya Mayor, director of FIU’s Science Communication and Exploration Initiative in the College of Arts, Sciences & Education.
“We put information in bite-sized pieces, so people can consume it at their pace,” Inclán said. “At NASA, we try to find people who don’t always fit into the mold of what a scientist is; a big part is trying to get people to relate, and see themselves [in what we do], and to get them excited.”
The interns work to identify ways to attract public support by testing messages for different age ranges and other segments of the population. They are hoping to increase youth engagement and reach new geographic areas with information about specific NASA projects, including the Artemis program (with the mission of landing the first woman and next man on the moon’s south pole by 2024) and the Sentinel-6 satellite, which is monitoring sea level rise from space after launching from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
“NASA communications requires a robust understanding of some of the scientific and NASA jargon that needs to be reconfigured to match the ears of whoever is receiving the message,” Gonzalez said.
For Martinez Rivera, a Global Learning Medallion candidate and aviation journalist, the NASA experience is the fulfillment of a childhood dream, and has been the perfect alignment with his existing international and aeronautical interests. He regularly connects with both Goddard Space Flight Center and Kennedy Space Center to work on the weekly communication schedules and helps draft Tweets for NASA accounts.
Like many of the 45 students and recent graduates in this fall’s Talent Lab intern cohort, the NASA interns are working remotely from Florida, and say they are thankful for the opportunity to make progress toward their goals of working in Washington, D.C. post-graduation, even during the pandemic.
“In this virtual context, I learned more about the importance of initiative,” Gonzalez said. “Really dialing in and going the extra mile to assist those within the agency has proven very beneficial for me, as I have learned a lot and gained quite a bit of insight that will certainly produce fruit in the future.”
FIU in Washington, D.C., is an integrated advocacy approach aimed at increasing FIU’s national reputation and federal support for FIU’s preeminent and emerging preeminent programs, faculty and students. The FIU in DC team collaborates with academic units to provide learning experiences and support the placement of students and alumni in internships and permanent employment.