By Megan Lein ’15
The sky’s the limit for Simpson junior Rachel Rice—literally.
Rice has been accepted into a highly select internship program at NASA, which she hopes will help her achieve her dream of becoming an astronaut.
“I’m going to Marshall Flight Center and it’s really, really exciting,” she said. “I didn’t expect that in my junior year of college I’d be working with NASA. The biggest benefit of my internship is that it will put me on NASA’s radar for future applications.”
The 10-week internship program in Huntsville, Ala., will allow Rice to research the aurora. “My work will be focused on aurora that occur during the day,” she said.
Rice graduated from East Marshall High School in Le Grand, Iowa. “I chose Simpson because of its strong math and science programs,” she said. “The more I found out about astronomy the more I wanted to know. And that became my passion.”
Rick Spellerberg, a professor of math at Simpson, first met Rice she was searching for a college. From the beginning it was very clear to him that Rice possessed the ability and motivation to carry her far in life.
“I was extremely excited when Rachel informed me her ultimate goal is to one day be an astronaut,” he said. “As an instructor, there can be nothing more exhilarating than having the opportunity to play some kind of role in helping a student meet their challenges.”
Summer research is nothing new to Rice. After her first year at Simpson she was accepted into the Bryan Summer Research Program at Simpson. Last summer, a Simpson professor directed her to a program at Coe College, where she researched the atomic range structure of glass structures.
Now this summer she will be traveling to NASA, with a week-long excursion to the Czech Republic.
At Simpson, students are presented many opportunities to conduct research. Professors also take the time to help students find appropriate internships in their career fields.
“The unique opportunities we provide students across the board at Simpson College, such as undergraduate research and the opportunity to present their findings at the Undergraduate Symposium, go a long way in helping our students develop the confidence and ability necessary to take on all challenges,” Spellerberg said.
Rice’s NASA internship will be interrupted for a few days so she can present a paper in Prague, Czech based on the work she completed during her last internship.
“My mentor from my summer research was really supportive in getting me to Prague,” she said. “She even sponsored me, had me apply to go, and was a large part in my acceptance.”
Rice, like many other Simpson students, realized that networking and getting involved in campus organizations and activities has been helpful when she was being reviewed for research opportunities. She also credits the guidance she has received from her professors.
“Simpson gave me networking skills that led to research at Coe, which definitely helped me get the opportunity at NASA.” Rice said. “Being able to talk with my professors and having one of them write me a recommendation letter definitely helped me stand out.”
Spellerberg explained: “Simpson has provided Rachel unique experiences that has allowed her to reach her full potential. It has provided her a serious competitive edge in all battles.”
Rice has taken advantage of many opportunities at Simpson, including joining department clubs related to her majors, and joining the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and multiple honor societies. In Physics Club she helps other students discover their passion for astronomy. In theater, Rice helps behind the scenes with costume and set design, even venturing to the stage this spring.
“I’ve been able to work and live with a variety of people at Simpson, which is appealing to employers and will be beneficial someday should I find myself living on the International Space Station,” Rice said. “A huge part of working for NASA, specifically as an astronaut, involves speaking to, interacting with and generally educating the public about the work and science being done in space and on the ground.”
Even though she dedicates a lot of her time to organizations, she still found time to take a semester to study abroad.
During the fall semester Rice studied at Roehampton University in London. It was there where she was able to continue her summer research and pay a visit to the University of Warwick.
Upon graduation Rice is looking at attending graduate school to continue her interest in astronomy and astrophysics. “Because I went to Simpson, I have had the opportunity to do research while traveling the world,” she said. “Hopefully someday that research will take me to space.”