By Dawchelle Hamilton, Contributing Writer
Ameer Blake, a senior astro-physics student, interned at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Goddard Space Flight Center as a National Astronomy Consortium Intern this past summer. Blake was among 19 students from around the country to participate in the prestigious program.
“I was anxious, excited and a bit nervous [about working with NASA]. I wanted to make sure that I did this in a way that didn’t embarrass me or Howard,” Blake said.
The nine-week internship was implemented to prepare the world’s next leaders in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) industry. Participants in the program got to explore many aspects of working with NASA from taking part in research projects to sitting in on colloquiums. Working at laboratories, observatories and NASA facilities, interns received one-on-one training with leading astronauts, engineers and physicists.
The interns were able to not only participate in the program, but they were also given the opportunity execute a research project under the supervision of NASA. Blake’s project idea, Cubstat Exploration, was inspired by Dr. Aki Roberge’s study of Beta Pictoris, the second brightest star in the constellation Pictoris. Roberge, a scientist at the Goddard Space Flight center, was also Blake’s mentor while he was in program.
Blake’s internship with NASA was particularly impactful considering the small amount of African Americans in STEM fields. Dr. Marcus Alfred, an associate professor at Howard University and Blake’s advisor, noted the need for more African Americans in the Astronomy field.
“If you look at the national statistics, there is only one black PhD. in Astronomy produced every year,” said Alfred. “[My students] can impact this number because they are persistent and I am very proud of them.”
Brianna Thomas, a junior, physics major recently completed the Harvard University Smithsonian Summer Program with Alfred’s assistance. Thomas is not deterred by the small number of minorities in the STEM field.
“Don’t be discouraged by the small representation of minorities. As long as you know your stuff, you’ll be fine” Thomas said.
Despite the lack of minorities in STEM professions, Blake says that Howard University prepared him to take on the challenge of being a scientist and gave him the confidence to thrive in his studies.
“Howard made me become more comfortable with myself as a black scientist in a world where a lot of old white men run science” Ameer said. “The university helped prepare me to go into NASA and not feel like I am having imposter syndrome.”
The NASA internship which he described as “too short” provided Blake with a mentor and networking opportunities with fellow interns and scientists
“Within two weeks [the interns and mentors] we’re like family,” Blake said. “To be honest I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay there until they hired me.”
Currently, Ameer is working on going to graduate school, continuing his research and furthering research from his summer project. He wants to get it launched and approved. One day he hopes to run his own lab- hopefully with NASA. Blake provided insight into his success for those who aspire to excel in the STEM fields.
“You have to be studious and interested because physics will get complicated and it will get on your nerves,” Blake said. “But you have to have the interest that will make you want to figure it out.”