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By Laura Enderson
As children, many people dream of space—to be able to fly rockets, become astronauts, and study the stars and planets.
For Megan Beisser, a junior from Liberty High School, her dream is to be an aerospace engineer. She wants to work with the design, construction and science of aircraft and spacecraft.
That dream became an actual possibility when Megan was one of two juniors and 10 seniors to be accepted into this year’s NASA Governor’s School Program. The program chooses high school juniors and seniors from all over Virginia to participate in a month-long engineering mentorship, from June 24 to July 21.
“I was really excited,” Megan said when she found out she was accepted into the program. “I didn’t think I’d get in, but I’m really excited now.”
Selected students work side-by-side with a mentor on research projects. They will also be participating in group discussions and other hands-on learning, with guidance from their mentor.
Megan said she could be working on anything from basic research to studying the pressure in a wind tunnel. The students are also given their own assignment to complete for their final.
Students stay on Christopher Newport University’s campus in Newport News, and travel to Hampton to work with their mentors during the week. On weekends, the students get to take trips and work on service projects.
Megan was encouraged by her band teacher to consider the Governor’s School summer music program. She decided to look into it and learned about the other offered programs. Because of her interest in engineering, she chose the engineering mentorship and applied. Then it was time to wait.
“It was a long wait,” said Kathryn Beisser, Megan’s mother, about the four months that passed before they heard she had been accepted. “The letter came and she was at soccer practice. I called her and asked if I could open it, and she wouldn’t let me.”
When Megan came home after practice, her family crowded around to watch her open the letter. She was accepted.
“I couldn’t believe I got in,” Megan said.
Kathryn said that being accepted is quite a process. Only 12 students were accepted for this year’s NASA program. The application was sent to the Virginia Department of Education, where it was narrowed down to about 20 students. From there it went to Dr. Margee Greenfield, the director of the NASA program, and then on to the NASA mentors. The mentors made the final decision, often choosing students that were interested in the research projects the mentors would be working on. Normally the program gives preference to seniors, with juniors chosen “particularly for their experience and skills,” Kathryn said.
Megan is excited, but nervous about the program.
“I’ll miss my whole summer,” Megan said. “But once I get there, it should be really fun.”
She is worried about getting along with her roommate and hopes she can do a good job at the program. Once she gets there, she knows she’ll be fine.
Megan will have to wake up at 7 a.m. for breakfast, and then the students will be driven to work at the NASA research office in Hampton. Students aren’t allowed to use Facebook or their cellphones at work. There’s a dress code too: nice jeans—no shorts—and a nice shirt, but no T-shirts, which Megan wasn’t too happy about.
“I’m a T-shirt girl,” she said, laughing.
But Megan said that this program will be a great experience for her, and that she should learn a lot about the engineering field.
“You’re doing what you would be doing if you were working there,” Megan said. “It’s exactly as if you had a job there.”
And students have a chance to be recognized for their work with their mentor. Sometimes the students’ names will be published with the research. The program also looks great on a resume.
“If I decide that aerospace engineering is what I want to do, then it looks good to do this program,” Megan said.
Megan’s excited to talk to the other members of the summer program for advice, since most of them are seniors. She said they may be able to help her pick a college to attend in the upcoming years, as she hasn’t made that decision yet.
Megan stays pretty busy throughout the school year. She is class president, plays soccer, runs track—where she made it to the state finals—plays in band, and is involved with her church.
“She likes to be busy,” her Mom said.
Both Megan and Kathryn are excited about the up-coming program.
“It’ll be neat to see how she’s challenged,” Kathryn said. “She’ll learn a lot. NASA works on all kinds of stuff that we apply to our lives that we didn’t even realize.”
Megan remains humble about being accepted into the program though.
“She could brag quite a bit about it,” Kathryn said, smiling. “But she doesn’t. She’s just really excited.”