UTRGV, Internship at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center was key to student’s job offer

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Internship at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center was key to student’s job offer

A summer internship at NASA led UTRGV electrical engineering student Abigail Montalvo Schulze (seen here at the engineering robotics lab on the Edinburg Campus) to a job with Procter & Gamble before she even graduated. (UTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy)

By Cheryl Taylor

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – DEC. 31, 2015 – Weslaco native Abigail Montalvo Schulze looks forward to this time next year, hoping she and her family will enjoy a white Christmas at their new home in Pennsylvania.

Montalvo, an electrical engineering major at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley who will receive her bachelor’s degree in May 2016, already has secured employment with Procter & Gamble at the company’s Mehoopany, Penn., facility that manufactures Charmin, Bounty and Pampers products.

“I credit my internship with NASA for opening this door,” Montalvo said. “I went to the campus Career Services job fair in late September, and that is where I met the recruiters from P&G. Their eyes lit up when they saw I had completed an internship with NASA.”

Montalvo, 26, spent the past summer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Al., as an electrical engineering intern.

“Recruiters like to see that you have done internships because it shows that you have the dedication to go out and look for work, and it means you have experience in a work setting, even if it’s different than what you will be doing,” she said.

She said she is grateful to Dr. Heinrich Foltz, a professor in the UTRGV Department of Electrical Engineering, for encouraging her to apply for the NASA internship, and for writing her letter of recommendation.

“Dr. Foltz had an alumnus from UTPA (The University of Texas Pan American) who works at Goddard Space Flight Center give a presentation to my class on his work with NASA,” Montalvo said. “He said internships and co-ops are available, and the recruiters – especially those who graduated from UT Pan American and UT Brownsville/Texas Southmost College – are eager to see applicants from the Valley.”

At MSFC, Montalvo worked on the code for the flight software of a CubeSat, a miniature satellite, approximately 10 x 10 x 10cm, made for space research. She and her mentor, Pedro Capo-Lugo, communicated daily.

“Pedro was extremely intelligent, very kind and helpful,” she said. “He showed me what was expected of me for the project, told me how to do it, and gave me resources if I had any questions. He also put me in contact with a software engineer who was basically a coding genius, who helped me a lot while I was up there.”

Occasionally, the interns were escorted on tours of the MSFC campus, visiting different facilities where they could talk to engineers in different areas.

“It was so interesting to see all the different parts that make up NASA,” Montalvo said. “Every building, every group, is working on various tasks simultaneously, and somehow they all depend on and they all interconnect with each other at some point.”

Free time was spent hanging out with other interns, dancing, caving, LARPing (live action role-playing game), playing Super Smash Brothers, or taking off on a group trip organized by NASA employees.

“On one excursion, we went to Little River Falls, considered one of the highest-rated watering holes in the nation – and rightly so, because it was so beautiful,” she said.

Working for NASA has been a dream of Montalvo’s since she started taking engineering classes at the Science Academy of South Texas in Mercedes.

As a university engineering student, Montalvo took advantage of gaining hands-on experience. She was involved in mathematics research as a freshman, then participated in two programs of the National Science Foundation – the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Summer Research Academy, and with Partnership for Research and Education in Materials (PREM), working in research on nanomaterials.

Montalvo said her summer at MSFC was a great experience in many ways.

“Practically everyone there is pretty amazing,” she said. “Honestly, I’ve never been in such an incredible work setting. The employees had this giant sense of integrity, like the honor system in the breakroom when someone was selling candy for a fundraiser – just leave a dollar and take a candy bar.”

She also appreciated the ethnic diversity of employees at MFSC, and how everyone “connected.”

“There wasn’t this sense of segregation that you sometimes see or feel in a lot of places,” she said. “Then, to top it all off, the people there are just brilliant, with a love and yearning for knowledge, answers and truth.”

Before the anticipated snowy Pennsylvania Christmas next year, Montalvo looks forward not only to her UTRGV graduation in May 2016 – but also to her 4-year-old son’s graduation from pre-K.

“In Mehoopany, I will be a process engineer. My son will be starting kindergarten. And my husband will be enrolled in college,” she said. “He has been our support during my education, and now it’ll be his turn to work on his degree.”

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