Science Prep Academy Student Selected for NASA Summer Internship For Autistic Students

Science Prep Academy student Keagan Starks had the opportunity over the summer to be apart of NASA’s Neurodiversity Network (N3) Internship Program. The program includes each student being paired with a Subject Matter Expert (SME) who then guides them through the program.

“Science Prep Academy is a very pioneering school for autistic and gifted children.” said Keagan. Keagan first heard about the opportunity through Science Prep Academy, where he is a senior. He is working towards his American Welding Society (AWS) Certifications through a partnership Science Prep Academy has with East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT) .

“The goal of the N3 program is to provide experiences for neurodiverse students, specifically those on the autism spectrum, that will spark their interest in careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)” – N3 Website.

The Subject Matter Expert (SME) Keagan is working with is Dr. Alexis Rodriguez, a Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, AZ. Keagan got the opportunity to meet Dr. Rodriguez on site before the start of the internship.

“You’re working with a program sponsored by NASA, and I will be a co-author on many scientific papers,” said Keagan in regards to how he feels about the opportunity.

“It has been an exciting experience. Especially going down there and meeting and talking with the scientist,” said Keagan’s mother.

She says the internship has helped him stretch beyond what he normally does and is getting experience with a different type of science he normally doesn’t see.

Keagan’s tasks included using GIS tools to map features on Mars that scientists believe are frozen parts of Mars’ northern ocean. Keagan describes it as collecting data sets, which he then uses to mark certain geological features on the images. He is most excited about the build-up his mentor has been doing, giving him more tasks and layers each time to allow him to grow and learn during the summer.

When asked about how Keagan feels towards maybe a career with NASA, Keagan seems to have a clear path he wants to take.

“I am a builder. I fix things and build things. I’m lined up to get certifications in welding…So I am planning to pursue a career in welding professionally,” said Keagan.

At the end of the summer, Keagan will produce and share a final presentation of the items he learned over the course of the program.

“We are proud of what he does in anything. When he puts his mind to it, he can do anything,” said Keagan’s mother.