An insider’s view on becoming a NASA intern and fellowship recipient

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This summer two Boise State students, Philip Belzeski and Kathryn Drake, were recognized and awarded by NASA.  In the aftermath of the experience of earning an internship and fellowship, The Arbiter followed up with Belzeski and Drake about their experiences.

Philip Belzeski: NASA Intern

Philip Belzeski. Photo courtesy of Boise State’s website.

Philip Belzeski, a senior physics major with an emphasis in biophysics and NASA Idaho Space Grant Consortium scholar, just returned to Boise from his summer internship at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

At the NASA internship, Belzeski analyzed imagery data of Aurora Borealis and conducted research on heliophysics. The internship was built upon study, independence and trust according to Belzeski.

“My day to day tasks involved a lot of Googling and asking questions and looking for solutions on my own which becomes a very deep rabbit hole,” Belzeski said.  “I was really independent and knew what needed to get done. My mentors were clear about the tasks needed to be done and they just let me go, which is a great experience.”

The intern application included sections on academics, experience, volunteer work, awards and several short essays. 

“Do not copy and paste that essay between all the opportunities because that is often what differentiates you. Be clear you are open for learning, even if you don’t know something, be honest about not knowing. They just want to see you are really eager to learn,” advised Belzeski.

Because Belzeski had applied and been rejected in the past, he didn’t expect to earn the internship. Therefore when he received the official email from NASA offering an internship it was an “…indescribable moment of dreams coming true.”

Belzeski continued to thank all his mentors at Boise State including Barbara Morgan and Steve Swanson, who are retired astronauts, as well as Daniel Fologea, a biophysics professor. Belzeski gave a special thanks to his NASA mentors, Robert Michell and Marilia Samara.

“Seeing how hard Michell and Samara work and how much they cared about each individual. It’s really inspirational. I want to be a lot more like them,” said Belzeski.

Overall, the main lesson Belzeski learned is the importance of collaborating in order to be successful.

“I’m not able to succeed alone, it really takes a group effort to accomplish anything,” said Belzeski.

Kathryn Drake: NASA Fellowship

Kathryn Drake. Photo courtesy of Boise State’s website.

A self-described thinker, supporter and aspiring adventurer, Kathryn Drake is a recent recipient of the NASA Space Grant Consortium Fellowship to create algorithms on cosmic microwave background radiation. She is currently a third year graduate student in mathematics with an emphasis in scientific computing and engineering.

The fellowship application included five pages about the topic of study, academic record, career goals and two letters of recommendation. During the midst of exams and last semester in her first master’s program, Drake only had a month to research, write and edit her proposal before submitting the application.

The fellowship is broken down into different stages, the first being an extensive, or what Drake liked to call an “exhaustive review” of 150 to 200 pieces of literature for dissertation. The next step is to create an algorithm to analyze NASA data, in order to create the final product, software.

Scientifically and philosophically, Drake is fascinated by her research about the fundamentals of the early universe.

“How everything is connected is beautiful to me,” said Drake. “Even with all these connections, there is so much variability. It’s a nice to be able to answer where [life]comes from. It goes back to the fundamental human pursuit of knowledge: where did we come from, and why are we here?”

Despite the intensive research and short time span, Drake remains optimistic about the challenges the fellowship presents.

“I wanted to challenge myself,” Drake said. This desire to achieve also stemmed from Drake’s journey to overcome an extensive period of self-doubt during her undergrad, in which her advisor wasn’t sure she could be successful in graduate school.

“Once I got into the master’s program at Boise State I was thrilled. I was surprised. I was terrified that I was going to fail out, but then I kept doing everything I wanted to do that I never knew I could,” said Drake.

To celebrate her fellowship and success as a mathematics graduate student Drake got an infinity sign, which is used for limits in calculus, tattoed on her ankle.

“It was a reminder to me that fears unfaced become your limits, and why I am aspiring adventurer,” said Drake. “I don’t want my fears to control my life, especially in the last year I’ve been trying to push my limits, even if I am afraid to fail.”


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