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UWF graduate student accepted into NASA program

June 6, 2018 | By Brandy Gottlieb; Photo by NASA and Alyssa Lee |

student posing for NASA program
Alyssa Lee accepted into NASA Pathways Program

Alyssa Lee, spring 2018 University of West Florida graduate and current UWF graduate student, is pursuing a career that is out of this world.

This fall, Lee will begin the NASA Pathways Program with the Armstrong Flight Research Center. The program provides opportunities for students and recent graduates to be considered for federal employment upon completion.

Lee says when she was younger, she loved astronomy and considered pursuing a career in the field. However, her aspirations shifted during her senior year of high school when she discovered the practice of public relations. This discovery led her to study communication at UWF.

After watching “Hidden Figures” in 2016, Lee was inspired to apply for a summer internship with NASA. The movie traces the steps of a team of African-American women, whose work in mathematics was transformative in shaping the early U.S. space program.

Our job at NASA was to make science fun and make people want to be involved in what we were doing. - Alyssa Lee

In 2017, Lee applied and was accepted into NASA’s summer internship program. During her summer 2017 internship, Lee served as the public affairs assistant to the director for the NASA Centennial Challenges. Initiated in 2005, the NASA challenges were designed to engage the public in the process of advanced technology development.

Lee says that during the challenge, she helped to communicate the message that “Everyone is needed in NASA’s mission.” Of her job, she says, “Our job at NASA was to make science fun and make people want to be involved in what we were doing.”

Lee feels that communication professionals are vital to the growth of STEM fields and argues that it’s essential to combine communication skills and STEM disciplines.

I feel that communication professionals are vital to growth in STEM fields. We should have greater emphasis on STEAM. - Alyssa Lee

She says, “NASA has a great need for communication professionals to better educate the public on what NASA’s missions are and how they are impacting the future of space travel. The rocket scientists are really smart, no doubt. However, when it comes to communicating their ideas to the public, they aren't as successful. I feel that communication professionals are vital to growth in STEM fields. We should have greater emphasis on STEAM.”

During the Pathways Program, which begins in fall 2018, Lee will spend two to three rotations working at NASA during her participation in the program. Completion of the program could span over a two-year period. She says that during that time, her duties with NASA will include writing feature articles, planning events and managing social media. Her goal is to gain real-world experience and the knowledge needed to prepare her for a permanent position with NASA after graduate school.

Much of Lee’s public affairs work with the Pathways Program could revolve around NASA’s exploration of Mars. NASA has been investigating the Red Planet since 1965 and its Mars mission to “Seek Signs of Life.” One of the Centennial Challenges for which Lee supported publicity efforts was the 3-D Printed Habitat Challenge. This challenge has called for the creation or development of technologies to produce NASA shelters for on-site exploration of Mars, as well as the Moon.

Lee speaks highly of her instructors at UWF. Of Rick Scott, lecturer in communication, she says, “Mr. Scott made me fall in love with public relations… He makes sure you will succeed in this industry and truly cares about all of his students. My experience here at UWF wouldn't be the same without him.”

Lee builds a case for the growing importance of arts-related disciplines in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

Rick Scott says Lee has been a “standout” in his classes and recognizes her ability to put her skills to work for NASA.

Of the field of communication, Scott says, “Communication is such a versatile degree. The ability to speak and write is in high demand regardless of the organization. Our grads can do that and more. They bring the ability to address an issue in a strategic way, then develop communication objectives and execute tactics to solve problems.”

In May, Lee received a Bachelor of Arts with a major in communication and minor in theatre and will continue her graduate studies in communication through UWF.