Samantha Sullivan/Staff Writer

Aerospace engineering junior Samantha Rawlins will serve as one of the 2014 Cohot VI student ambassadors at NASA. She is the first Cal Poly student to receive the honor.

Samantha Sullivan

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Samantha Rawlins has known she wanted to do something space-related since she was a little girl.

“I would look up at night, see the stars — well, not too many because I’m from Los Angeles,” she said with a laugh. “But I’d see some stars and I would always just be amazed by them.”

The aerospace engineering junior noticed she was curious about the stars in a way other kids her age were not. As a result, she decided to pursue engineering in high school through FIRST Robotics.

Rawlins was recently selected to serve as one of the 2014 Cohort VI student ambassadors for NASA. She is one of 104 elite interns inducted into NASA’s Student Ambassadors Virtual Community and she is Cal Poly’s first.

Rawlins said being selected was an honor. Additionally, as a female engineer, she is excited “to be able to show young girls … it is possible to do such exciting things with NASA as an engineer,” she said.

As an ambassador, Rawlins will be working at events hosted by NASA and other organizations, she said. Her task is to encourage people — from elementary school students to her college peers — to get involved and excited about STEM fields.

“It’s all about trying to get hype up about NASA,” she said, “and how what we’re doing is exciting and cool and how it applies to everyone.”

Rawlins has had two previous internships with NASA: one at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama in 2012 and the other at Langley Research Center in Virginia this past summer.

For her first internship, Rawlins worked with the NASA propulsion academy, where she and 11 other NASA interns were “specifically trained, and focused, and almost groomed” to become propulsion experts.

“(Propulsion) is the fire that comes out of the end of the rocket,” she said. “It’s what makes it go up.”

Rawlins applied for the first internship online. After that, NASA basically comes to you, she said.

NASA picks the opportunity and the people they think will fit, she said. Though Rawlins didn’t have any experience, the stars aligned — her mentor just happened to be looking for a fresh engineer.

Most of the other 11 interns were either graduates or seniors, so Rawlins learned from her peers as well as NASA.

For her second internship, Rawlins worked on creating a contamination control enclosure for a payload that will be docked with the International Space Station (ISS) in 2015. The payload has to be kept clean enough for space, so it is kept in a clean room while on Earth.

However, one test that has to be run on the payload had to be done outside the room. Rawlins was tasked with creating an enclosure, almost like a tent, she said, to keep this payload clean while the tests were being run.

Both opportunities lead to her becoming an ambassador.

According to Rawlins, NASA selected a group of people from its internship pool and invited them to apply for the ambassadorship.

Rawlins plans on pursuing a master’s degree in propulsion after she graduates. After that, she hopes to work for an “exciting” organization.

NASA, of course, is on top of the list, she said.

Rawlins’ mentor, Terry Nienaber, deputy chief engineer on the Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III-ISS mission, selected her from a list of people based on a reference from two people he knew and trusted, he said.

Nienaber said Rawlins carries herself well, and said “it’s interesting, because she is young for where she’s at in her education and experience.”

“There was some apprehension about what type of personality she would have and what level she was going to be ready for in terms of a challenge,” he said. “But she definitely rose to the challenge, any challenge I gave her.”

According to Nienbaer, Rawlins’ future seems bright.

“I have no doubt she’s going to have big things coming up for her,” he said.

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