By Olivia Chiu
Incoming senior Kristen Kafkaloff is taking part in a rigorous eight-week internship with the Flight Electronics and Software Systems Department of JPL, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This program has been Kafkaloff’s first step into the professional world as it uses both her academic and interpersonal skills.
Wanting to experience a work environment, explore future job options, and delve into her intended major, Kafkaloff was one of ten high school students chosen for the internship, which mostly recruits college students. Kafkaloff draws flight software and hardware diagrams via Microsoft Powerpoint, which is similar to the hardware components of the spacecraft.
“I have learned so much,” Kafkaloff said. “For example, my mentor taught me the difference between computer science and computer engineering, something that many students are unaware of before they apply to college.”
She also feels that she has grown in other ways; interacting with adults and calling meetings has improved both her communication skills and ability to complete tasks independently.
Kafkaloff certainly received the work environment she was seeking. Entrusted with diagramming and labeling both the main hardware and software of future spacecraft, she holds the responsibility of clarifying interactions between the two. This assists the flight software group in understanding the testing process of the spacecraft. To achieve these tasks and tackle future projects, Kafkaloff needs to interpret flight software systems. Kafkaloff is learning coding languages such as Unix, html, and C++ to complete these projects.
“Knowing a year of Java helps because I’m working with a lot of coding,” she says. “It’s really nice to have at least a decent basis on how coding works.”
Kafkaloff feels the internship is helping her decide her major between computer engineering or computer science. Though her work at JPL is computer engineering based, she intends to pursue computer science.
Kafkaloff greatly enjoys her work with coding and computer engineering and feels that the experience is not as intimidating as it may have seemed at first. After a positive first encounter with real-world computer engineering, she highly recommends fellow high school students to explore the world of computer science.
“I think it’s very important for students to take advantage of their summers prior to applying to college, whether it’s an internship or summer program, because it gives you a real opportunity to either potentially find or explore your passion,” Kafkaloff said. “I was fortunate enough to find my passion in AP Computer Science last year, a class I highly recommend to everyone, especially girls, who currently comprise a mere 16% of the computer science field. Please consider exploring this field; thanks to the growing technological needs of our society, your options are limitless.”