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Emma Friedman Lands ‘Dream’ Summer Internship at NASA Goddard

May 16, 2023 English

Carina Nebula

The junior English major and astronomy minor will blend her interests to tell stories about outer space.

By Jessica Weiss ’05

This summer, Emma Friedman ’24, an English major and astronomy minor, will work on creating informational materials about complex and innovative NASA missions that involve “optical communication”—or communication that uses light to carry information. 

For Friedman, the self-described “dream” internship is the apex of her college experience thus far, and a testament to her commitment to landing an opportunity at the national space agency. Along the way, she received support from advisors at the University Career Center @ ARHU and the University Career Center. 

We spoke to Friedman about her experience blending the arts and sciences at UMD and how she landed such a highly coveted summer internship. 

Can you tell us about how you decided on your major and minor at UMD? 

Emma Friedman headshot

I’ve had an interest in astronomy since I was a child. I remember always trying to explain to my parents what we were seeing in the sky. I’ve also been a writer since I was four years old and love writing, but I didn’t come to Maryland expecting to focus on that. I always imagined being a scientist and came to college to study astrophysics. I realized pretty quickly that pure STEM wasn’t for me. Even though I was always good at science, I was never very good at math. There’s a lot of reconciliation that needs to happen when you value being interdisciplinary, so I looked at myself in the mirror and admitted I wasn’t going to thrive in astrophysics, and that was okay. I realized that what I really wanted to do was write. The English major has been wonderful. I’m on the language, writing, and rhetoric track, and I really enjoy it because I like to argue. I get excited when I have a thesis I want to prove and feel myself coming together with an outline and filling it out and really getting granular about my ideas. In the astronomy minor, I’m probably most excited about stellar studies. I love stars; I think they’re wonderful and so diverse and endearing. 

Have you found ways to blend the two? 

English and astronomy have been separate in my coursework, but it’s a gap I’m working to bridge through being a tutor in the Writing Center. I really love it because I meet so many different students, and I especially like encouraging STEM students to come in because I can look them in the eye and tell them I understand how hard it is. A lot of them write every day and don’t even realize they’re doing it. Writers are needed in every aspect of life. There’s nothing lost in coming into the Writing Center and dipping your toe into the humanities. I used to have a science writing blog. I had always been flexing this muscle because I knew it was something I wanted to do. I get very excited about breaking down complex topics; I’ve always enjoyed explaining things to people and them legitimately being excited about what I was telling them. 

It sounds like your summer internship will involve this sort of writing. Can you tell us what you’ll be doing? 

Yes! Working at NASA was always the dream job, and I worked tirelessly to get it. I’ll be commuting to NASA Goddard, not too far from home in College Park, to be the internal engagement and communications intern on the Communications and STEM Engagement team. In this role, I’ll see to it that all members of the project and community are aware of, excited about and supporting major milestones of upcoming optical communications missions. This is an interesting and kind of niche field in astronomy, which basically deals with how we can communicate with each other in space but also receive info from satellites and other objects to extrapolate on the data they’re collecting. It’s pretty hard to explain so part of my job will be to aid in that process. The writing skills I’ve learned at UMD have prepared me for this. 

You also previously interned at the White House. 

Yes, last summer I lived on campus and commuted to D.C. to work in the Office of Presidential Correspondence. I can’t give a lot of details, but I did a lot of policy stuff and learned what the Biden administration does. 

So impressive! What tips would you share with other students interested in landing an internship? 

First of all, I’d say don’t feel pressure to have a dream internship—it isn’t about that, it’s about the dream experience and the way you want to feel while you’re doing it. I really encourage students to do some thought exercises when they’re figuring out what sort of internship they may want. Close your eyes and imagine it. Are you creating something, like graphics, writing or videos? Are you helping people? Are you setting up systems that could help people who are disadvantaged? Are you talking to a lot of people, doing something public facing? Or are you a little more reserved? Once you’ve figured that out, cross reference that with the skills you know you have, and that’s the springboard for your internship-searching experience. 

I think it’s also important to acknowledge you may have to apply to many places before anyone even reads your resume, and how many internships you apply to will depend on the competitiveness of the industry or company you’re targeting. I applied to 30 internships to land one at the White House. And this year, I applied to 50 internships with NASA. That can be discouraging and scary, but it’s the reality. You have to be persistent.

Beyond internships, you can literally do anything you want while you’re at UMD. If you want to study English, astronomy, business, be in the choir and do martial arts, you can. College is about more than just your major, it’s about learning skills and tapping into all the resources UMD has to offer.  

Interested in applying for an internship? Learn more about EDCP108i: Academic Transitions to Internships, the 1-credit internship search/prep course.

Top photo of James Webb Space Telescope NIRCam Image of the “Cosmic Cliffs” in Carina Nebula, courtesy of NASA