Recent high school graduates seldom win an internship with NASA, but robotics whiz Brooke Neufeld, a 2013 alumna of Tehachapi High School in Tehachapi, Calif. is an exception to the rule.
Neufeld, a rising freshman at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, served a summer internship at NASAs Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards, Calif. through NASAs Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP), a prestigious program where students work on practical problems that will see real applications in aerospace.
During a 10-week internship from June through August, Neufeld worked with her mentor, NASA engineer Joe Hernandez, and fellow intern Jacquelin Patton to develop a portable data acquisition system to record readings from strain gauges on a NASA Gulfstream III business jet that has been modified for aeronautical research.
I was designing a portable data acquisition system to be used for loads testing both here at Dryden and at FlexSys, Inc., in Michigan, Neufeld said. Our data collector will record readings from strain gauges to confirm the structural integrity of the ACTE.
ACTE stands for the Adaptive Compliant Trailing Edge project, which is evaluating a flexible trailing-edge wing flap that will be mounted on the Gulfstream III, making it more efficient than conventional wing flaps. Conventional flaps have gaps between their forward edge and sides and the wing surface, creating added aerodynamic drag and noise when they are deployed for takeoff and landing. Neufeld is hopeful the data collected by her device will verify the workmanship, material quality, and correct functioning of the ACTE system.
An electrical engineering major at Cal Poly, Neufeld is exceedingly motivated and was among one of the youngest summer interns at NASA Dryden. During high school, she took on-line classes to create room in her schedule for extra engineering classes and was heavily involved in her alma maters For Inspiration and Recognition for Science and Technology (FIRST) robotics team, the Cyber Penguins.
“My experience on the robotics team truly inspired me to pursue a career in either electrical engineering or computer science,” said Neufeld. “When I first heard about this job opportunity, I had understood it was mostly outreach for kids with some engineering tasks, but on my first day I found out it was quite the opposite. I was ecstatic that my internship would be focused on engineering the majority of the time.
Neufeld enjoyed her NASA internship so much that she is planning on applying to the Pathways program at NASA Dryden.
The Pathways program is a Co-Op (cooperative education) program where a college student switches off during the quarters of either working at NASA or going to school, Neufeld said. If I am accepted into the program, I will have over two years of engineering experience by the time I graduate from college.
Neufeld feels she is gaining invaluable experience in engineering, computer programming, and professionalism from her NASA internship. She appreciates the welcoming environment at NASA Dryden and enjoys being surrounded by experimental aircraft.
I would love to work at NASA again, said Neufeld. It didnt feel like a job. I got to work on planes all day, and every once in a while they gave me a paycheck for some reason!