Trine student soars to new heights in NASA internship
Will Steffel says he knew nothing about rotorcraft before the summer began, but the Trine University senior learned about them in a big way.
The mechanical engineering major from Sherwood, Ohio, completed an internship this past summer at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, working in rotorcraft aeromechanics.
He had applied to multiple internships through NASA’s internship application website, but the opportunity to work with rotorcraft appealed to his interests in aerodynamics and aeromechanics.
“The opportunity itself is always there, as NASA is always looking for interns,” he said.
He opted to drive to California for the internship, arriving May 31 to settle in and meet people before beginning work on June 3.
“I lived in a dorm-style building with many other interns from all around the country,” he said. “We often had interesting conversations around slang terms that we found to be regional or be pronounced differently or have different meanings in different areas.”
The experience lasted 10 weeks. He spent most of his time modelling or simulating model behavior, learning about Solidworks, 3D printing and other manufacturing process and practices, as well as getting experience with materials and machinery.
He was part of a group of about 25 interns, each assigned their own project.
“We could openly discuss our problems and challenges, and the space made for a great sounding board for ideas,” he said.
Though hired by NASA, he primarily worked for the Army Aviation Directorate, so he often walked from his desk in NASA’s Aeromechanics building to his mentor’s office in the Army building. He also spent time working in the Army’s shop and lab.
The dual nature of his internship meant Steffel couldn’t share everything about his Army work with the interns and administrators at NASA.
“I’ve never been in a situation where I couldn’t be open with my colleagues, especially those who were technically my superiors,” he said.
He said his most memorable experience was touring the 80- by 120-foot wind tunnel at NASA Ames.
“Not only was I inside the largest wind tunnel ever built, but the man leading the tour also seemed to know everything about it,” he said. “He has been with NASA Ames for many years and had an anecdotal story for nearly every part of the tunnel.”
He also toured the 129th Rescue Wing of the California Air National Guard, where he was allowed inside the newest version of the Lockheed C-130 military transport aircraft and the Pave Hawk, the rescue-oriented version of the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.
“I had the opportunity to talk directly with pilots and crews of both, and see what the cutting edge of military rescue equipment really looks like,” he said.
Between driving to and from California and spending some weekends sightseeing, he said he also was able to experience places like the redwood forests and Yosemite National Park.
He said that the most valuable aspects of his internship were the opportunity to make connections at NASA and the Army, and the interactions he had with the professionals there.
“I had the privilege of working with engineers who are very good at what they do, and I’ve picked up some good habits as well as good advice,” he said. “The same goes for the machinists I worked with. They took the time to teach me a little and the better an engineer knows the processes, the better he or she can design parts and the better he or she can work with machinists and manufacturers.”
Top photo: Will Steffel stands in front of the NASA logo at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.