|The magazine of University of Houston-Clear Lake
Spring/Summer 2013 | volume 19 | number 2
From Intern to Employee
Petite and vivacious, UHCL alumna Ashley Harral recently landed a career that exceeds fulfilling her desire to learn. Graduating with her Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Finance last December, Harral accepted her diploma knowing her position as contract specialist with NASA Johnson Space Center would be official in January.
“My dream since I was little was to obtain a master’s degree,” says Harral, who grew up in the Clear Lake area. “There was a strategic advantage to growing up near JSC and being a UHCL student.”
While attending graduate classes with fellow students who were NASA employees or contractors, Harral began to understand the NASA culture, change her perceptions and deepen her appreciation for the space program.
“Early on I got to see the excitement that engineers have for their jobs,” says Harral. “They are so energized; if you ask them what they do, they’re excited about telling you.”
Realizing her lack of work experience would make it tougher for her to enter the workforce, Harral followed a tip from a classmate and began searching for an internship. She applied to what was then called the NASA Co-op Program. Now known as Co-op Pathways Programs at NASA, the program was created to provide opportunities for students and recent graduates to be considered for federal employment.
“The relationship that the university has with NASA allowed me to apply to be a co-op student,” says Harral. “Not all schools have this agreement, which is required for application to this program.”
With the arrival of summer, Harral found out that she was selected for the program and in fall 2011, she started as a NASA graduate co-op student. As a business major, she was required to log a minimum of two tours in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer and in the Office of Procurement. Each tour meant 10 weeks of full-time hours as an employee.
For Harral, her internship provided “amazing unprecedented opportunities to tour and understand the research and projects going on at NASA.”
Co-ops met weekly to work on projects including outreach, such as creating YouTube videos promoting NASA and organizing volunteer opportunities. A recent “NASA Johnson Style” YouTube clip created by NASA co-op students was featured on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and had more than five million hits. Public speaking, technical and on-the-job training provided well-rounded career preparation.
Harral heard lectures from astronauts, including Eugene “Gene” Kranz, famed NASA flight controller during the Apollo 13 mission. She went on tours to see moon rocks and other artifacts at NASA JSC, adding richness to her learning experience and an up-close look at NASA’s unique work environment. Her biggest project as an intern was supporting the Crew and Thermal Division for their work on the High Performance Extravehicular Activity Glove.
At the end of each tour, participants gave a presentation before the office’s director or chief financial officer on accomplishments during the tour and why the organization should hire them. Harral’s presentation outlined her activities and her ability to take responsibility for large projects. It included an impromptu quiz to test managers and directors on their Federal Acquisitions Regulations knowledge and helped her land not only the job, but also the Co-op Award given to co-ops that go above and beyond in excellence.
Harral credits some of her leadership and teamwork skills to her involvement with the UHCL Student Government Association and Student Life Council, and even her participation in the Mascot Advisory Team as part of the UHCL Mascot Search. While a student she received the Emerging Leader of the Year Award, Student Government Director of the Year, was recognized in Who’s Who in American Universities and Colleges, and earned Committee Representative of the Year Award. She also served as an orientation leader, member of the Student Government Association Executive Council, and as special events director for SGA.
Harral says the university’s diverse student body prepared her to work successfully with the multicultural workforce at NASA.
“The diversity at UHCL helped me be more prepared,” says Harral. “Learning to respect different cultures on campus taught me to appreciate NASA’s workforce diversity – we’re all quirky there.”
On a typical day at NASA, Harral manages, negotiates, administers, extends, terminates and renegotiates multimillion dollar contracts. Her work supports projects that include Morpheus, the International Space Station and the Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle — all programs making important contributions in research. For Harral, supporting the engineers is one of the most rewarding parts of her job.
“I feel blessed that I am able to be part of a team that allows dreams to become a reality,” says Harral. “Everyone is so passionate and excited about what they are working on, it gets you excited to come to work every day and help them achieve extraordinary goals.”
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