Engineering major rides a wave towards NASA innovation

Lightmary Flores

Sophomore Bryceton Scurr looks to the stars for ways to translate his Engineering major skills into a virtual internship for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as an agency-wide human resources developer and creative writer.

Scurr, who serves as both ASWC Senate’s Residential Hall representative and chair of the Student Feedback Committee, is a resident of Oahu, Hawaii. At home, he loved greeting his friends at the local farmers market with shaka gestures and hanging at Waikiki Beach. As a physics enthusiast during high school, it was only natural for him to pursue a career in engineering.

 This year, while continuing to develop applied physics expertise in a class setting, Scurr decided to intern on campus in the Weingart Center for Career and Professional Development this past summer where he came across a high-profile NASA internship by chance. With the encouragement of Assistant Dean Debra Pratt, he applied in a heartbeat for the internship offered by the Virtual Student Foreign Service (VSFS), the largest virtual internship program in the world.

After rewriting his application four times, and psyching himself up about the possibility of working directly under one of NASA’s main headquarters in Washington D.C., Scurr received an email in late August discussing his selection for phase two of the application process. The second phase required submitting a one-minute video describing his academic and personal goals. “This was the most fun,” Scurr said. “Once I received the letter of honor, I immediately called my mom, of course, and she screamed. I felt that all my hard work had payed off. It felt so surreal.”

As part of the NASA team of seven other graduate and undergraduate interns, Scurr will be working on creative strategies and project development over the next eight months. Networking is an essential aspect of his role and has given him the opportunity to talk to different executives in NASA about their latest projects. One of Scurr’s first tasks as part of the project was to collect and post content on Twitter to help promote NASA’s initiative as represented by their #NASAproud.

“I appreciated the fact that many of these top notch exectives were willing to share their stories,” Scurr said. “One executive told me about how he got to create his own job title as Innovations manager, which was really cool. There are so many opportunities within NASA that I didn’t know about.”

Just this week, after skyping with his supervisor, the Chief of the Office of Human Capital Management, Scurr was assigned his next task: to coordinate NASA’s yearly Benchmark event. As part of this project, Scurr is responsible for coming up with the guest list of NASA executive attendees representing each department and developing an agency-wide workforce program on topics such as work-life balance, emotional intelligence, employee satisfaction, and performance analytics.

“Instead of someone briefing on what NASA does, it will be an opportunity for a few executives to talk about what they are doing in their office and strategies on ways of improving work performance and employee satisfaction,” Scurr said. “My goal is to really market their catchphrase ‘Innovation the NASA Way’ through project management.”

Although this internship is not directly space technology-related, it has made Scurr understand the importance of communication in engineering. “Just understanding NASA’s culture makes me see who I want to be as an employee whether or not I end up continuing the engineering path or if I go into corporal side of engineering.” 

After one more year here at Whittier, Scurr like other 3-2 engineer majors will transfer to USC where he will complete his Bachelor’s of Engineering. At the USC Viterbi School of Engineering he will take more specialized classes through which he hopes to learn more about the development of aircraft and spacecraft in aerospace engineering. “They have a rocket club which would be cool to have here,” said Scurr. “As part of USC’s rocket program, they built a rocket that broke a record and went into atmosphere; about 100,000 feet. into the air.”

So far, learning all the new mechanics of engineering has been Scurr’s favorite part of the engineering program here on campus. “I love solving problems and optimizing things for the best outcome,” Scurr said. “Right now I am learning about light waves which is difficult to conceptualize but the most satisfaction comes from being confused about it but then all of a sudden you get that ‘aha moment.’”

Scurr’s internship will include future projects like interviewing NASA employee focus groups, researching agency-wide workforce communications, and marketing new products to senior leadership at the end of the internship in April 2017. “I really hope to learn from the feedback I receive from these top executives and turn it around relatively quickly into an improved product,” said Scurr.

In the not too distant future, Scurr hopes to go into computer or electrical engineering. He notes that working for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and on the Mars Project would be a dream come true. “The possibilities in space technology are limitless,” said Scurr.