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NASA: Developing a STEM Talent Pipeline Through Inclusive Internships

Employer Case Study: Learn about NASA's efforts to ensure opportunities for scientists with disabilities.

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This case study describes NASA Goddard Space Center’s approach to recruiting and engaging students with disabilities in its internship programs. Internships are one of NASA Goddard’s primary sources for recruiting new talent. 

While all NASA internships are open to any student, including those with disabilities, the Achieving Competence in Computing, Engineering and Space Science project (ACCESS), specifically targeted undergraduate and graduate students with disabilities. ACCESS was managed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) through a grant. NASA also partners with the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP) to identify students with disabilities interested in applying for any of its internship programs. To ensure that all students, including those with disabilities, can locate and apply for any of the agency’s internship opportunities, NASA developed a centralized application process for all NASA Centers. NASA's STEM Gateway allows students to learn about various opportunities to participate in NASA's internships, fellowships, challenges and pre-college and college STEM experiences. Students can also search, view and apply for internships and other opportunities.

NASA's internship application provides the option for students to disclose whether or not they have a disability. This information is only accessible to the Office of Education and is not distributed externally prior to the acceptance of the student into the internship program. Available internships include science and technology focused projects, in addition to general opportunities assisting in human resources, financial and communications functions throughout the agency. Science and technology opportunities might include tasks such as assisting scientists with data collection and analysis for research projects, assisting engineers with designing and developing products, computer programming, developing smart phone applications, taking inventory of materials and producing science education products and programs. Depending on the needs of the particular office or lab, general opportunities might include an intern working in a public affairs office assisting with writing press releases, conducting outreach events and managing social media communications.

With the student’s consent, the Disability Program Manager, workplace mentor, Education Program Manager and intern speak before the intern’s first day to discuss the type of work the intern will be doing and any accommodations needed for the internship. Interns are provided an orientation that includes an introduction to the organization, security procedures and workplace policies. During this orientation, interns also learn about Advisory Committees (Employee Affinity Groups), employee clubs (e.g., running, astronomy, amateur radio) and are encouraged to connect with other employees on common professional and social interests. While there is no formal mentoring program, program managers help interns identify and schedule informational interviews and professional guidance. On occasion, the DPM has introduced an intern with a disability to an employee with a similar disability to network and receive informal mentoring. Many GSFC’s civil servant employees with disabilities were NASA interns prior to permanent employment at NASA. Other networking activities include hosting a Celebrate Goddard Day for interns to meet directors, advisory committees, clubs and providing an Intern Facebook page.

Internship program managers meet with each intern during their first week to see how they are acclimating as well as regularly throughout the internship. This provides an opportunity to address any challenges they may experience, offer support and discuss career plans and next steps. The Office of Education and the Office of Human Capital Management also provides educational sessions for interns on topics such as how to conduct an informational interview, how to navigate USAJOBS and how to prepare a federal resume. Interns can participate in a variety of training opportunities offered to all employees including science and technology seminars and self-paced classes in the learning center.