Internships with NASA, Disney explore national involvement

TEMP ORARY February 23, 2012 0

In this day and age, having an internship is as essential as having a degree. For this reason, many students choose to complete internships during their final years at Elizabethtown College. But does that mean students have to take any old paper-pushing job? Of course not! Seniors Leann Johnson and Rachel Saul chose exciting places for their internships – North American Space Association (NASA) and Walt Disney World, respectively.

Johnson, a double major in applied and pure math and computer science, completed her internship at NASA over the summer. She worked for the Goddard Space Flight Center located in Greenbelt, Md. as a summer intern for the Scientific Visualization Studio. It was a paid internship that required her to work forty hours weekly, not unlike a job she will have after graduation.

Johnson’s responsibilities included creating two programs for her department. In the first, Johnson wrote a program that would break large video into fifteen smaller frames for NASA’s hyperwall. A hyperwall is a wall comprised of monitors, and with smaller frames, the video could play better on the hyperwall.

Johnson’s second project was segmenting video for a dome show visualization, a large video that would be presented in a dome, such as a planetarium. “One of the visualizers was having trouble analyzing the video in any detail because it was so big,” Johnson said. “I thought, ‘Hey, I’m already breaking up frames, I can just take [a] big one and break it up in a different way and compile a video for those frames.”

Essentially, Johnson would isolate one section of the video to be analyzed. “Picture watching just the left half of a movie, it was like that. So then [my supervisor] could watch just that small section and see that in its full resolution,” Johnson said. She wrote a program similar to the one from her first project to help her with this dome visualization issue.

Johnson enjoyed her work at NASA and the work environment. Most of the people she worked with were middle aged with families, but everyone was helpful and friendly. “The guys would sit around and talk about sci-fi. It was the epitome of working at a ‘nerd’ place. But it was cool and a lot of fun,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s supervisor, Horace Mitchell, head of the Scientific Visualization Studio Group, was also very helpful and understanding. “He was wonderful,” Johnson said. “He had such a good way of being encouraging and guiding me if I needed help.” She still keeps in contact with Mitchell via Facebook.

So how did Johnson hear about this internship? By surfing the net. “I was browsing the Internet for different internships and found NASA,” Johnson said. She stated that the application process was very simple – she applied online and then was offered the internship.

Rachel Saul, a theater performance major, was recently accepted to Walt Disney World’s internship program. She will relocate to work in attractions from August 2012 to January 2013.

Though Saul was accepted to work in attractions, next month she will compete in character auditions. If she is chosen to play a Disney character, those responsibilities will override her attractions responsibilities. “It is just a general audition. Whoever the board thinks you would best fit, you will be,” Saul said. But she does hope to be cast as a Disney princess. “Snow White would be great. Any princess would be awesome. Minnie Mouse would be a dream, but I’m too tall,” Saul said.

Because Saul does not live in Florida, she will live in accommodations provided by Walt Disney World. “It’s similar to the apartments on campus,” Saul said. “We will get a kitchen, bath and living space.” However, she will be living with seven or eight other employees. Rent will be taken directly out of her paycheck so there is no need to pay bills. Saul will also get to voice her preference for the type of accommodations she will receive.

Saul specifically sought this internship for a few reasons: she had friends who completed the program before who recommended it to her and she always thought working for Walt Disney World would be an amazing opportunity. But another factor in her decision was that the company allowed her to apply even though she was a second semester senior.

“The program allows you to apply as long as you are a full-time student. That was a big thing for me,” Saul said. She will not enroll in classes for this reason, but other students can take classes while working for the theme park.

Saul encourages others to apply for this internship. “It was so easy to obtain,” Saul said. “You just go on the website, apply and interview. The waiting is the hardest part!”

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