Lauren Friend ’19 launched her Chapman University student experience to new heights when she scored her dream internship with NASA. But when she packed up and moved to Cleveland, Ohio, to join the scientists with the graphics and visualization team at the space agency’s Glenn Research Center, there was one tricky obstacle — the government shutdown.
But when NASA closed its doors, the biochemistry and molecular biology major didn’t just bide her time. She volunteered at a local high school, helping the robotics team prepare for an upcoming competition. Now that the government is back in business, Friend is busy at NASA, so we asked for an update on the experience. It’s been stellar, to say the least. And guess what? Her volunteering effort is all-systems-go, too.
Q: What are you doing in your internship?
My internship is in Machine Learning for Biomimicry, Bionics, and Bio-Inspired Innovation. Essentially, this means I work on developing image recognition, pattern recognition and feature extraction using machine learning to link with data in PeTaL, which stands for a digital multidimensional Periodic Table of Life. Part of this internship is helping to develop PeTaL so that it can search for and classify the patterns that exist in life. It helps engineers to replicate the solutions that nature provides, which is something I’m super passionate about. Machine learning refers to studying models and algorithms that help computer systems improve their performance on specific tasks.
Q: What is your favorite part of the work?
I love that I’m in a lab environment, and not just sitting in a cubicle. It’s a really fun environment. My mentors are amazing. I had my program crash the other day and I didn’t know why, and they dropped everything to help me figure it out. Everyone is so intelligent and curious and driven. These are really great people to be around, and I think they’ll be lifelong connections.
Q: What has surprised you about the experience?
I thought that I was going to be contributing to the project and assigned what I was going to be doing, but when I came in the primary investigator of the PeTal project asked me what my interests were and what I thought would be a valuable contribution to PeTal. So I went back, looked more into it, and came up with an idea to pitch to him, and he liked it. Now I only have a couple weeks to produce this tool that I want to add on to the project, but it’s cool because it’s entirely my idea and my project. I came up with my project based on my own interests and what I wanted to learn, and I am doing all of the work, and this could be something NASA keeps using even after I leave.
Q: What advice do you have for other Chapman Panthers looking for internships?
Read your emails! I found this opportunity in one of the weekly emails sent out by Schmid College of Science and Technology, and applied from there. After I applied to a different position, my mentor emailed me about this specific one that I’m doing. I almost thought it was spam and ignored it, but thank goodness, I didn’t! Also, the more things you apply to, the higher the chances are of you getting a yes. Believe in yourself.
Q: Are you still volunteering now that the internship is in full swing?
Yes! We’re going to a high school soon that’s really research focused to help them with a poster presentation, and talk to them about NASA. I love how NASA is big on volunteering and outreach, and letting us, the interns, know that we are more than welcomed to help out with that if we want. I don’t have quite as much time to help the robotics team now that the internship started, but I just popped in there the other day. I also just volunteered at a local library where we helped the kids make miniature robots and gave a presentation on all of the different NASA rovers.
Display Image at Top/File photo of Lauren Friend ’19 in the lab of Professor Douglas Fudge, Ph.D., where she has been a member of the research team.