Raewyn Duvall was in the Museum Apprentice Program (MAP) at Creative Discovery Museum for six years and has now landed her dream job working with robots for the Mars mission for NASA. We asked her about her new job and her experiences as a MAP.
Can you describe the work you’ve been doing with NASA?
My official position is a Pathways intern for SwampWorks, NASA’s research division at Kennedy Space Center that primarily works in robotics. I am the Computer Engineer for the team and am currently working on Red Rover, a platform robot used for testing systems that may be used on future robots on actual missions. Our current big project that we’re doing testing for is Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot (RASSOR), an excavator robot that is slated to go to Mars to help set up resources for manned missions in the future. It will collect Mars dirt for things such as extracting water and making material that could be used by a 3D printer we are also developing. Basically I get to do a lot of fun new research with robots all day.
What’s a typical day like?
A typical day at NASA involves coming into the lab around 8 AM to start work – email and generic administrative tasks first. Then I program and play with robots until around noon. There are also a number of staff meetings, at least one a week to update the branch on how all the projects are coming along, and then other meetings with mentors and supervisors to make sure our individual project is on track. As an intern, I also get to go on a lot of tours – for example, next week I get to see Orion, the next manned module for going to Mars, and the week after I’ll be touring the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), one of the largest buildings by volume in the world where they assemble the rockets before launch.
What do you hope to do in the future? What would be your dream job be like?
This is my dream job! Now, the only thing that could be better is if I actually got into the Astronaut program and was able to go to space! There are two ways to be an astronaut: through the military or through education/research. So I have actually have a plan of getting a couple of Masters and maybe a PhD. After my first Masters, I’ll start applying to be an astronaut every time applications open up. My more realistic goal from here, though, is probably management; it would be really cool to be a project manager and be in charge of a project from start to finish.
What sparked your interest that led to study computer science?
I actually got into computer science because my sister and dad were in some computer science and I loved the logic behind it when I actually started programming in high school. My teacher, Jill Pala at GPS, really got me excited about programming to where I wanted to pursue it in college. Admittedly, it was my backup in college because I knew I liked it but really wanted to do Mechanical Engineering. Now that I’ve taken Mechanical and Electrical Engineering classes, as well as a lot of math classes (just a few classes shy of a double major), I realized that I love all of engineering, so I’m actually going to grad school starting this fall for MSc in Robotics from the University of Plymouth (UoP) in England, then starting next spring an MS in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), and hopefully after that going into Mechanical Engineering and maybe even some Aerospace Engineering. There’s going to be a lot of school in my future, but luckily the program I’m in right now lets me go between school and NASA every other semester or so.
What is your favorite memory from your time as a MAP?
I was a MAP for 6 years and have so many memories from it. Honestly, I loved the people I worked with and how much a family CDM was. It was the most inclusive and supportive area of my life during middle and high school and I’m still best friends with some of my fellow MAPs today. Everyone had fun together everyday at work and that really made me realize that the one thing I value most in a job is the group with whom I’m working.
How did being in the MAP program help prepare you for this internship and college?
The MAP program really taught me how to open up to people I don’t know. I used to be very shy, but on the floor you have to learn how to interact with guests and when you’re a Level 3 MAP, you have to be able to help with training and being a mentor to the new MAPs. Because of the social interactions required throughout my time at the museum, I learned to be extroverted, which helped in creating strong points of contact with my mentors over the years and ultimately networking successfully.
Randy Jestice (Youth Programs Manager) was really the main instigator of my transformation throughout the MAP program. He brought me on knowing that I’d have to come out of my shell to succeed at CDM and he was always there for advice and support throughout all of middle and high school. He also helped me create a solid foundation for my career using his experiences in the professional world by teaching me everything from how to create a polished resume to how to improve my technique in interviews. Randy’s insights into how I could be better prepared for the real world were invaluable to my success.
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