Computer science major spends summer with NASA

Sky’s the limit.

Well, anything but for one Bloomsburg University computer science major who completed an internship with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) last summer. John Gibson, a junior, set the ambitious goal of working with NASA after watching The Martian as a freshman.

“That got me interested in checking out the NASA computer science internship pages to see what kind of requirements that would entail,” Gibson said. “To my surprise, the curriculum requirements closely matched the course I was taking or soon would be taking here at BU, so I set it in my sights to apply.”

Gibson shared his dream of working with NASA with one of his professors (Drue Coles) in the Department of Mathematical and Digital Sciences. Coincidently, he learned that a BU alumnus had completed two internships with NASA during his time as a student and would be back on campus for an upcoming College of Science and Technology Career Day. Coles invited Gibson to attend lunch with the alum, where he was able to ask questions and learn more about landing an internship opportunity with NASA.

In addition to having supportive faculty, Gibson also received the support from his fellow members of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) student chapter.

“ACM, especially the officers, helped me build my professional image, join the programming competitions team where we traveled to various conferences, and urged me to apply for internships,” Gibson said. “It was these qualities that helped me be selected for my internship.”

Gibson landed a position of a software engineering intern at NASA’s Langley Research Center. He was under the supervision of a mentor and paired with another intern where they were responsible for building their mentor’s team of system engineers a tool to automate the process of communicating changes on a project to all other team members.

Because Gibson and his fellow intern were the only ones knowledgeable in this area, they had a free reign when it came to designing how to achieve this. Together they determined rules for how changes would be communicated, how to design the user interfaces, and setting up tests against their own code. In addition, Gibson was also in charge of designing and building the web application side of the tool. Once it was completed, he and his fellow intern presented to both the local center and administrators at NASA headquarters.

“Working with NASA gave me a clear experience of what it’s like in the real world when a developer needs to work directly with a client to determine what they need and then build it from the ground up,” Gibson said. “This has opened a lot of doors for future web development jobs.”

Gibson says he hopes to continue building user applications as a software engineer or web developer at another innovative organization this coming summer.

“Get involved with other clubs, groups and organizations outside of the classroom that are relevant to your goals,” Gibson said. “Get to know your professors outside of class. These are where you will find opportunities and the people that will help build you to achieve them. It is definitely what helped me.”