After overhearing a conversation between a teaching assistant and a student about a recently completed internship at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, little did Kenneth Andersen Jr. know that the next University of Connecticut student to accomplish this feat would be himself.
The self-proclaimed risk taker wishfully thought that one day he might be able to do the same. Now, Andersen Jr., a fifth-semester mechanical engineering major, is among a group of 40 interns, selected from a pool of 3,300 applicants, set to participate in NASA’s Pathways Internship Program beginning in January.
The program provides current students with paid work experience and recent graduates with a dynamic career development program at the beginning of their careers, according to NASA’s website.
But Andersen Jr.’s latest accomplishment is by no means a coincidence. During his formative years, his fascination with space and aeronautics was birthed through his interest in “Star Wars” and “Star Trek.”
“Well every engineer is a nerd before they actually decide they want to be a nerd. We all grow up on ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Star Trek,’” Andersen Jr. said.
Despite having grand ambitions of working with the esteemed company, it was still only a dream.
“I never thought that I’d be able to play a role in any of that, it was a dream, rooted in my fascination but never really acted on it,” Andersen Jr. said.
A year following the conversation he overheard, Andersen Jr. found himself reading an email indicating that applications would open in the coming days.
“I thought about it for two days because I received the email two days before applications opened,” Andersen Jr. shared.
Following initial hesitation, he decided to jump at the opportunity.
“I remember saying no, I don’t think I can do it, then I decided I’m gonna try for it anyway,” Andersen Jr. said. “Because this is something I dreamt of, and if the dream is right in front of you, why not go for it.”
Submitting his application with second guesses, he waited a couple weeks before being notified he had made the cut of 140 interviewees.
“It didn’t make sense to me at first, like, I didn’t understand what I was reading even after reading it three times. I got home and showed it to [my girlfriend],” Andersen Jr. said.
His next step after the realization that he’d been shortlisted for interviews was preparation.
“If you do the math, that’s around 3.6% that get interviews, so I said to myself, I might as well give it all I’ve got since it seems possible now,” Andersen Jr. said. “I went on Glassdoor looking up potential questions I could be asked, and of course I received none of those, and I remember leaving the interview uncertain of how well I did.”
Despite his uncertainty, he counted on his comfort level in interviews, as well as his experience from previous interviews.
“I was expecting a response early November, but it was about a week later I got the confirmation email that I had been accepted,” Andersen Jr. said.
After receiving the email that his biggest dream was about to become a reality, Andersen Jr.’s failure to contain his excitement caused him to leave class prematurely,
“I remember jumping up in the middle of class, then catching myself mid-way because I didn’t want people to start looking at me like I’m crazy, so I left class, and just ran home, thinking, this is crazy,” Andersen Jr. said.
NASA’s Internship Employment Program, establishes intern appointments, some of which may be for indefinite periods for durations of up to one year. Successful completion of a Pathways Internship Appointment may result in permanent employment or term employment for up to six years.
“The program is done in three tours, as they call it; so it’s three semesters, non-consecutive. I’m gonna be gone January 2020, Fall 2020 and then the following summer. Basically it’s them training you to work there full time,” Andersen Jr. explained.
Instinctively reserved and shy, the New Haven native believes he’s ready to apply all he’s learned through previous internships on the big stage that is NASA.
“Being inspired is what I look forward to most. I believe that I can bring practical solutions based on my previous experiences,” Andersen Jr. said. “Working at NASA is of course a big inspiration for any engineer, being a part of something so globally recognized. I’m just excited to love what I do again.”
Through its internships, NASA offers several opportunities that provide unique NASA-related experiences while contributing to the operation of a NASA facility and the advancement of NASA’s missions.
Equally, Andersen Jr. hopes to be an inspiration for others from his hometown.
“I’m just another kid from a small town, so more than anything, I hope to be an inspiration for kids where I’m from,” Andersen Jr. said.
Nicholas Martin is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org