Reaching for the Stars: Engineering Student Nicholas Jensen ’20 Interns for NASA

Reaching for the Stars: Engineering Student Nicholas Jensen ’20 Interns for NASA

Encouraged by School of Engineering faculty members, Nicholas Jensen ’20 landed three internship projects with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

When Nicholas Jensen ’20 signed up for his core religious studies course focusing on Ignatian spirituality, he had no idea it would change his life. But that is exactly what happened.

Inspired to consider his calling, the School of Engineering undergraduate thought about his childhood bedroom with its photos of astronauts on the walls, his dream of working in space, and stories shared by an uncle who worked at an aerospace firm.

“My Jesuit spiritual advisor encouraged me to find my talents and move toward the things that I love,” said Jensen, a computer engineering major from Mount Sinai, N.Y. “Space is one of them. It pushed me to look for a NASA internship.”

Encouraged by engineering faculty members, Jensen went on to land three internship projects with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), over a 12-month period spanning from January 2020 to January 2021.

His endeavors will help to inform work on future spacecraft missions in NASA’s Artemis program. “It’s cool to be one of the first Stags to kind of leave a footprint on Mars or the moon,” said Jensen, who finished his undergraduate computer engineering studies in December with minors in computer science and mathematics.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the nation, NASA internships for some college students understandably ended. But Jensen got to be in the first group to intern for NASA remotely at home. His first assignment was with the NASA Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base in California, working as a software engineer and writing advanced algorithms.

For his next assignment, Jensen worked on a magnetic separation project that expanded his computer and mechanical engineering skills. His diligent efforts led to a third project, for which he joined a subgroup within the magnetic separation project to develop new robotics systems and work on his own patents.

Jensen credits his comprehensive Fairfield education with providing a great foundation for his NASA internships. “I took interdisciplinary courses,” he noted. “Physics, computer networks, mechanical engineering — not just computer science courses.”

School of Engineering Associate Dean Harvey Hoffman, EdD, pointed out that Jensen’s internship projects offered an amazing opportunity to work with researchers and engage in real-life challenging work. “Nicholas, like all NASA interns, was challenged to think outside the box, take initiative, develop innovative ideas, and deliver results,” Dr. Hoffman said. “NASA management was so impressed with his ideas that they offered to patent a design that he came up with.”

Jensen looks back fondly on his days as a young kid building rocket models and dreaming of working in space. “That’s where it all began,” he said. “It’s cool to think all these years later, I got to work for NASA on some really amazing stuff.”

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