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A NASA internship leads a USF graphic arts student to illustrate a children's book

 A young woman with her brown hair in a ponytail, looks into the camera, with a rocket behind her on a launchpad.
Andrea Coloma
A young woman with her brown hair in a ponytail, looks into the camera, with a rocket behind her on a launchpad.

Ever since she was younger, University of South Florida sophomore Andrea Coloma has wanted to work for NASA as a graphic designer.

When she was in high school, she was able to put her dream to the test to make sure it was a viable career.

She said she felt like it was something she needed to do because her parents, who emigrated to the U.S., faced their own career challenges when they came here. Her mom, who had a bachelor’s in business administration from Ecuador, discovered it wasn’t accepted here and she had to start out as a secretary. And her dad, who went to technical school, faced the prejudice of low expectations.

“There’s a whole starving artists stereotype that is kind of hard to overcome. At first, my parents were mostly supportive. But I think they did become a lot more convinced that it was a good choice for a career after I was able to get these NASA internships,” Coloma said.

When she was still in high school in Clermont — just 75 miles west of Kennedy Space Center — Coloma got a free trial of LinkedIn Pro and started searching for NASA graphic artists. That led to a chat with people at NASA and Coloma was offered a “shadowing internship.”

Ultimately, she did five separate internships with the space agency, working on newsletters, animating videos and illustrating a children’s book.

In her her most recent internship, she illustrated a children's book for NASA for the agency's Space Communication and Navigation (SCaN) program, highlighting SCaN's role in NASA's recent Artemis I mission.

She has this advice for students or others who want to chase their dreams:

“Don't be afraid to reach out to people. And if you do get the opportunity, don't be scared that you might not be capable enough, just go for it. Because in the end, you'll probably be able to figure it out, even if sometimes it seems like a struggle,” Coloma said.

After the “shadowing” internship, Coloma said she was contacted by the Orion Communications Team at Johnson Space Center in Houston — as she said the 10 NASA centers don’t coordinate internships — completely independent of the first internship.

They offered her work on an animation project for a children’s video to “explain how our new Artemis mission will be launching Orion into distant retrograde orbit, which basically … That's where the astronauts will go (to) when they go to the moon.”

Coloma hadn’t applied for that internship, because she didn’t feel like she was ready, but she said they must have liked what they saw of a children’s book she created in high school.

Coloma said it’s not clear whether she will be interning with NASA this summer, but she’s gained so much through the experience.

“I think my internships with NASA have made me more hopeful for my future career. Because it's proof even as a freshman and sophomore in college that I do have skills that people are looking for, and they are at a level that will be able to satisfy people who are looking for a professional product," she said. "And it feels nice to already have connections in the industry."

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