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Student Profile

Student Spotlight: Kierra Shook

The University Honors Program (UHP) interviews Kierra Shook about her 2022 internships with NASA.

Kierra Shook portrait in front of the American and NASA flags

By Meghan Teten

Kierra Shook is a third-year student in the University Scholars Program (now combined with the University Honors Program) studying aerospace engineering. This past year, Kierra began the realization of a childhood dream.

“When I was younger, I wanted to be an astronaut or work for NASA for our job fair dress up day, but I was told by a teacher to ‘pick something more realistic for your future.’ I was very discouraged because I thought I could be an astronaut or do calculations for NASA, but she began to tell me that it was impossible, especially from my small town.”

Kierra didn’t allow herself to stay discouraged for long, however.

“There will always be people trying to critique your approach and your dreams, but that’s the key: it’s your dream! It is yours and not theirs. It pushed me to work harder, research experiences at NASA I could get involved with and make higher authority connections… I let it fuel my fire to work harder and make sure I achieved my dream.”

Over the spring and summer of 2022 Kierra completed a paid internship with the NASA Office of STEM Engagement, which allows high school and college-level students to contribute to agency projects under the guidance of a NASA mentor. This opportunity transitioned into a fall 2022 NASA Pathways internship, allowing Shook to complete her NC State Co-Op experience while providing her with a direct pipeline to full-time employment with NASA upon her graduation. While these internships are a step in the right direction toward her dream job, the original internship opportunity almost didn’t happen! Shook is a case study in “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Her persistence and tenacity eventually paid off.

Kierra wearing an orange astronaut uniform and holding a helmet with her foot propped up on a recliner
Kierra tries on the Orion space suit

“I applied multiple times for multiple opportunities and was denied all of them. My friend mentioned that she was in the Pathways program and she knew of some people I could reach out to, so I did and I really tried to show them how passionate I was about their open internship positions. I impressed [my friend’s connection] with my persistent emailing and was always updating him on my research… No matter how many times I got denied, I still applied for the next application period and tried to get more involved in academically focused clubs that would help me build experience so NASA could see the ways I’m growing as an engineer… He liked that I was consistent and pushed for what I wanted.”

Kierra shared that her internships with NASA have been rewarding and challenging, teaching her new things about herself and the organization she hopes to work for that she never knew before. She learned how to be more confident in her work decision making skills and how to continue pushing her own limits and goals.

“I realized that I wasn’t always going to do well on my first try, but that the biggest lessons came in learning from my mistakes… An internship is the perfect opportunity to try new things and learn about projects more in depth. Even though I did not have prior experience with pyrotechnics, I ended up loving it so much that I finally know what I will be concentrating on during my graduate degree. Being able to work on projects outside of my original interests is what helped me learn to love the power and propulsion side of NASA.”

Some of Shook’s favorite memories from her internship experiences with NASA include trying on the orange Orion Spacesuit for a suit fit check and being invited to a Crossfit session with NASA astronaut and NC State Alumna, Christina Koch.

Kierra’s favorite quote? No surprise here: “Don’t tell me the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon” (Paul Brandt).

Kierra with astronaut and NC State alumna, Christina Koch
Kierra with astronaut and NC State alumna, Christina Koch

Are you a University Honors Program or University Scholars Program student that has achieved something note-worthy during your time at NC State? Want to tell us about it? Submit your story on this form for a chance to be featured as a Student Spotlight Story!