Cross-country and trackster Haley Stumvoll preparing for takeoff in her summer internship at NASA
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Haley Stumvoll can’t help but want to reach for the stars.
Call it part of the ultimate sibling rivalry.
The youngest of four with older siblings that include a brother who got his bachelor’s and master’s from Georgia Tech and a sister who graduated from Emory, where she ran cross country and track, Haley is combining the two — running both sports while majoring in electrical engineering.
For the summer, her reach for the stars led to an internship at where else but NASA?
It’s her second straight summer she has done an internship in Los Angeles, having applied for and gotten accepted by NASA as part of its OSSI (One Stop Shopping Initiative) program.
“I basically applied online and they picked me,” she said. “This summer I’m working with the aerodynamics and propulsion branch. I’m not actually doing so much of the aerodynamics and propulsion but more of programming a display to go in the cockpit of one of the research planes.”
The Oakton, Va., native, who chose Georgia Tech “for its aerospace program, job opportunities and diverse study abroad programs” is happy about the job opportunity that brought her west for the summer.
“It’s good for me because I knew the (Armstrong Flight Research) Center so I knew people to go talk to and was a lot more comfortable to actually go to talk to the people,” she said. “So it was really helpful.”
Stumvoll’s in week 8 of the 10-week internship, in which she’s working on a 9/80 schedule — nine days over a 10-day cycle (she gets every other Friday off) and covers 80 hours — her usual 7:30 a.m.-to-4:30 p.m. day allows her time to go to the gym, where she’s done a ton of cross-training as she rehabs a stress-fracture in her hip.
Her work will vary over her nine-hour days.
“It really depends,” she said. “I come in, check my email to see if there’s anything I need to go do right away. Most of the time I’m just working on my project, so I’ll be programming at my desk but sometimes I’ll be going to do testing. Part of my project we’re doing testing in flight simulators so sometimes I’ll go over there and test in there or I’ll go check out something in the hangar because our display is going to go on an F-15. Sometimes I’ll go out there and look at where the display could go. It’s just going all over the place depending on the day.”
Stumvoll no longer has stars in her eyes but she does admit that there are still moments where she realizes just how cool it is to get to work on an F-15 or a flight simulator.
“Sometimes I’ll feel like, `Wow, I’m at NASA and I’m doing REAL work that’s going to be used,'” she said, with a laugh. “There are a lot of things with my projects where like, I knew how to program in Python but I had never done serious programming so that’s what my project is really based on. I’m kind of learning all of that. One of the things that’s really awesome is being able to work with simulators. It’s really cool to say you got to work with an S-18 Simulator.”
Georgia Tech has ties to NASA. As recently as last October, Robert “Shane” Kimbrough, who earned his master’s at the Institute, took part in Expedition 49/50, a four-month mission flying to the International Space Station. While Kimbrough may be the most famous Georgia Tech alum associated with NASA, Stumvoll is proud to continue the line and has been able to rub elbows with several GT alumni both this and last summer.
“Here there’s a lot of people,” she said. “One of the guys I work with actually went to Georgia Tech for his undergrad and master’s. So it’s really cool seeing a lot of Georgia Tech people here.”
While there is little-to-no margin for error in her work, Stumvoll has found that the atmosphere still can be understanding.
“There’s not so much a pressure on me. I know I want to do as well as I can and I want to make sure I can get it as perfect as possible but the environment here is pretty laid back,” she said. “So it’s pretty open if you like make a mistake, as long as it’s not anything really big, people are pretty forgiving of that.”
Stumvoll’s understanding of what it is and, especially where she does it, easier to grasp than her friends have.
“Sometimes I get a pretty fun reaction,” she said, with a laugh. “I’ll say, `I work at NASA,’ and they’ll say, `NASA NASA?’ and I’ll say, `Yes, NASA NASA.'”
It’s a place she’d like to call her workplace, not only next summer but for years to come.
“Oh yeah, I would love to work here after I graduate,” she said. “I don’t know what my summer plans will look like next year but if I got an offer I would definitely take it again. I really love the workplace here. It’s really welcoming and I love the work.”
It even helps at home with the battle of the siblings.
“I do get to say that, `I work at NASA,'” she said, with a laugh. “But my brother, Ryan, can hold over me that he has his master’s already. So maybe a little bit but not too much.”