Dining with Astronauts and Working in Mission Control

Engineering student is in the midst of an internship with NASA that has allowed him to work on the next generation of manned spacecraft

Justin Bautista stands in front of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle

Justin Bautista stands in front of an Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle that he worked on as part of an internship with NASA.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — Justin Bautista has sat in NASA’s Mission Control Center, had dinner with astronauts and conducted research to make the next generation manned spacecraft more space ready.

Those experiences were all made possible for the junior at the University of California, Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering through a NASA internship program. Bautista spent nine months in 2012 in the program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and will return in June for his final four months

“It has been an amazing experience,” Bautista said. “I have been able to learn so much. And I’ve had the opportunity to grow up a little bit; a lot, actually.”

Bautista is taking part in the Johnson Space Center Pathways Intern Employment Programs. About 160 students are selected annually for the paid, full-time positions. Students are required to complete three semesters of work tours. Bautista is believed to be the first UC Riverside student selected.

Bautista, 23, grew up in South Gate and graduated from St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower. His parents instilled in him the importance of education and sacrificed financially to send him and his siblings to private schools.

Justin Bautista sitting at the flight director's seat in the historic mission control center.

Justin Bautista sitting at the flight director’s seat in the historic mission control center.

In 2008, he enrolled at UC Riverside intent on majoring in electrical engineering. And, like all entering students, he received a career development checklist from the engineering college. He took it seriously.

  • Conduct at least one internship. Check. Bautista had a full-time paid internship working on automating the smart grid for So Cal Edison and, now, has the position with NASA.
  • Participate in undergraduate research. Check. He spent six months conducting transportation research at the Bourns College of Engineering Center for Environmental Research and Technology.
  • Join a professional student organization. Check. He is a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and the Bourns College of Engineering Leadership Council
  • Prepare your resume early. Check. He completed this during his second year.
  • Attend career preparation workshops. Check. He has attended quarterly workshops offered by the Bourns College of Engineering.
  • Develop your communication and leadership skills. Check. He is president of Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers chapter and a member of the Council of Advisors for the dean of the Bourns College of Engineering. He also has been a group leader at UC Riverside’s orientation program for incoming students and mentored students at Sherman Indian High School in Riverside.
  • Prepare for licensing or graduate school exams. Not quite. But he won’t graduate until 2014.
Justin Bautista sits in the shuttle avionics integration laboratory.

Justin Bautista, right, in the shuttle avionics integration laboratory.

Jun Wang, director of student development at the Bourns College of Engineering, is impressed by Bautista.

“Literally, his resume is the dream model of what we want our students to do,” Wang said.

Wang encouraged Bautista to apply for the scholarship program that led to him receiving the NASA internship.

In 2011, Bautista learned he would be receiving a scholarship from the Great Minds in STEM HENACC Scholars Program, which aims to increase access for Hispanic students to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

He was thrilled. The scholarship would help and he would get a free mini-vacation to Walt Disney World to attend the conference to pick up the money.

More importantly, he soon learned the conference was in part a recruiting opportunity for companies – such as NASA, Lockheed Martin and Oracle – that fund the scholarships. Bautista connected with a recruiter from NASA. A few months and several interviews later he was accepted into the internship program.

He arrived at the Johnson Space Center in January 2012.

Initially, he worked in the Mission Operations Directorate, with the Flight Planning Branch. At the time, they were preparing for the launches of SpaceX’s private Dragon spacecraft. They were also performing regular repairs and resupplying the International Space Station.

Justin Bautista stands in front of the Lunar Electric Rover concept

Justin Bautista in front of the Lunar Electric Rover concept

He then moved to the Engineering Directorate, working with the Human Interface Branch. There, he worked on developing organic light-emitting diodes, which are used to create digital displays on televisions and computer monitors. They would replace cathode ray tube technology, which is costly and heavy, on the upcoming NASA Orion spacecraft.

When he returns to Houston in June, he will be working in the Avionics Division. After his final work rotation, he will come back to UC Riverside for his final year. He expects to graduate in June 2014 and is hopeful that he will receive a job at NASA, an agency he believes in.

“It’s about changing humanity,” Bautista said. “I think space is amazing. I think it’s where our future lies.

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