NASA Internship Benefits USF Student

A USF mechanical engineering student spent last semester helping NASA develop new technologies for a space rover.


                                                                                                                         Video credit: Danielle Barta | USF News


By Daylina Miller

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Jan. 13, 2011) – To those small children dreaming of spaceships and walking on the moon, University of South Florida student Marie Chenowith has one thing to say: keep dreaming big.


The mechanical engineering student just completed a semester-long internship in the robotics department of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Tx. and is back at USF to finish her last semester for her bachelors degree.


It hasn’t been an easy journey, Chenowith said.


In 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans, where Chenowith is from. Her family’s house and all their belongings were destroyed so the family was forced for relocate, with barely more than the clothes on their backs and a box of photos, to Florida.


She took three years off from school, working three jobs, to help her family get back on their feet.


“I graduated from high school in 2002 and here it is 2012 now so it’s been 10 years working on my degree with all the ups and downs between Katrina and having my family move around,” Chenowith said. “It has been a long struggle but because I’ve had my family there to support me I’ve been able to look forward to my future.”


Chenowith admits she was nervous about the NASA internship coming to an end. She doesn’t know what to expect after graduation, but she’s hopeful the internship will help her in her career.


While at the space center, Chenowith worked on new technologies for the next space exploration vehicle, a rover that will be sent on future missions to Mars. She studied various copper and aluminum foams to be used as heat exchangers in the rover’s thermal subsystem.


But Chenowith almost didn’t accept the internship. When NASA called to offer it to her, she told them, believe it or not, that she’d have to think about it.


“I do have a [10-year-old] son,” Chenowith said. “Being a single mother and a student is really hard if you don’t have the right support, but I do have a very loving and caring family. I have to think about not only myself but my family as well when it comes to my future and without my family there giving me support, letting me know they’d take care of my son and help me, I would not have been able to do this.”


Chenowith’s son was taken care of by her mother, sister and a close friend, USF engineering student Marcela Godoy, for the five months that Chenowith spent with NASA. Despite her anxiety over leaving her son for a few months, Chenowith decided taking the internship was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.


“Honestly, when I applied for this internship, I didn’t think I’d ever hear back from NASA,” Chenowith said. “NASA is something you dream about, that’s up in the heavens somewhere, in the sky, you don’t think you’re ever going to work at NASA so when they gave me the call back, I was baffled.  I could not believe that NASA wanted to know who Marie Chenowith was.”


After graduation, Chenowith plans on pursuing opportunities in the aerospace industry or the U.S. Department of Defense, which NASA works with to develop new technologies.  


“Without going there and witnessing it hands on, I would never have any idea of some of the things we use today that NASA is responsible for…like the flip phone and laptop technology,” Chenowith said. “The idea of having them on a folding mechanism was developed by NASA, as well as many flame retardant materials like clothing and apparel that fire departments use.”


In just a few short months, Chenowith will walk across the Sun Dome stage, ending a nearly 10-year journey to receive her degree and start the next chapter of her life.


Daylina Miller can be reached at 813-500-8754.