To Infinity and Beyond

Senior finds success and opportunity with summer NASA program


Irissa Machetta

Irissa (pictured center) poses with other students selected for the program,with whom she got to work with over the residential period of HAS.

Allie Leatherman, Staff Reporter

Poring over the many equations, senior Irissa Machetta strives for perfection. Surrounded by NASA scientists and engineers, she is tasked with planning a trip to Mars.

 Senior Irissa Machetta was given the opportunity to spend a week at NASA for their Highschool Aerospace Scholars (HAS) program held over the summer.

“This experience has benefited me immensely by opening my eyes to countless STEM opportunities available through the Aerospace Scholars hands-on programs,” Irissa said. “We had the opportunity to experience and get exposed to the National Buoyancy Laboratory, VR technologies, and other hands-on experiences at the NASA facilities, to name a few”.

During the school year, she completed an online curriculum including interactive lessons and communication with NASA scientists and engineers; only the highest achieving students were allowed the residential experience.

“Irissa is a fabulous student,” environmental science teacher Jill Thompson said. “She’s my first student to ever make it into the program.”

About 200 juniors were selected for the online period, which lasts six months and occurs during the school year. Only about 20 scholars per week were allowed into the week-long residential period in the summer.

The program requires strong time-management skills and solid knowledge of core courses such as science and math,” Irissa said. “The 16-week curriculum requires considerable balancing between the program and school work. Being able to balance school and the HAS curriculum takes strategic planning and wise use of time. Nonetheless, it is an excellent experience as a preview for senior year. [Balancing] the Aerospace curriculum and 6 AP classes has helped me immensely for the work I have to do now – juggling classes, extracurricular activities, and college applications at the same time.”

The program uses prior skills learned in school and apply them to real-world situations, preparing the scholars for the workforce.

“NASA’s HAS program really taught me about what it’s like to be an engineer in the field or go into science, technology, engineering, math and [its] application,” Irissa said. “The ways they were applying [it] was really [engaging], and to be a part of that was a really interesting experience.”

The curriculum provided in the HAS program prepares students for the workforce, whether the scholars pursue the STEM field or not.

“Through this experience, she has learned not just about the science field,” Katrina said. “Through the instructors of the program, she was able to learn crucial life lessons.”

Many of Irissa’s teachers encouraged her to apply and helped her throughout the program.

“Ms. Jill Thompson was very supportive and encouraged me to apply,” Irissa said. “In addition, I am truly grateful to have solid support from my STEM teachers – Mrs. Moore, Mrs. Drugan, Mr. Wallace, and Mr. Mancillas. All were supportive of the Aerospace courses that enabled me to excel before being chosen for the onsite program at the Johnson Space Center.”

Many previous scholars of the program end up working at NASA after additional education.

I hope to work at NASA,” Irissa said. “It is a leading-edge research community that I would love to explore and grow in. NASA’s culture of inclusiveness and teamwork is admirable.”

With her experience at NASA, Irissa has a higher chance than others to be hired in the future.

 “I’ve never seen a student with so much motivation,” Thompson said. “She’s brilliant.”