Junior mechanical engineer Tara Martin spent months looking online for summer internships, sending in résumés and filling out applications. Then she realized she was doing what thousands of other college students were doing. She took a different approach.
“My middle school swim coach was coaching at the United States Air Force Academy,” she said. “So, I reached out to him and asked if he knew anyone at the Academy. I grew up in Colorado Springs and I thought it would be great to intern there in one of the labs.”
It turned out that her coach did know someone, a director of operations in the Academy’s Aeronautics Research Center. The director talked to Martin on the coach’s recommendation and then referred her to the director of research, who offered Martin an internship.
“It’s true what they say: it’s about who you know,” she said.
Martin spent the summer researching engines for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), specifically, exploring hybrid technologies to make them more efficient.
“Hybrid cars use both internal combustion and electric engines to maximize efficiency and power,” Martin explained. “We were looking at how similar technologies would work in UAVs. My job was designing tests to see what the engines were capable of.”
The first thing she did was redesign the test system itself, so that the lab could explore three different hybrid configurations and determine the engine's output with each hybrid mode.
“Then I performed an engine vibrational analysis, and from there designed a theoretical
external flywheel that would make the UAVs more efficient and durable.” Martin hopes one day to work in aerospace, and she knows her internship at the Academy gave her important career experience. But she might not have been able to accept the unpaid internship without some guidance from her mother. At a parent orientation at Rice, she had learned that the Center for Career Development could assist students with grants for travel or conferences. She encouraged Martin to talk to the CCD.
“The grant covered my expenses, which was great,” she said. “My experience at the Academy was like nothing I’ve done before.”
She said that interning at the Academy brought together the technical material she had in her engineering classes and the “softer skills” she developed with the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership, — working in teams and communication — which proved invaluable.
“The internship helped me see how all those systems work together, your technical skills, and the way you interact with other people, how you can influence others. I hadn’t been able to see both of those things in practice before, but Rice gave me to tools to bring both into the lab and be successful.”
Martin is currently on medical leave from her studies, but she’s hoping to return in the spring or next fall.