Ngāti Porou student wins NASA internship

updated By Jessica Tyson

University of Waikato student Lynley St George is about to spend the next four months in California to participate in the NASA International Internship Programme.            

The 23-year-old, of Ngāti Porou, is one of three high-performing New Zealand tertiary students chosen for the second cohort of the 16-week programme, alongside Finbar Argus, 23, of Christchurch, and Sam Donald, 22, of Whanganui.

St George says she's "extremely excited" about the opportunity.

"Not just as an opportunity for myself, but also for other people I work with, so I can pass on the skills and experience I'll gain.  I've already learned a lot before even getting there!"

St George has a Bachelor of Science degree double-majoring in Computer Science and Physics.  This year she is undertaking her Master of Science in Computer Science degree, focusing on human-computer interaction and data visualisation.

“University has helped me connect to my Māori side. I can see the divide between Māori and Pākehā at university and that’s something I’d like to see change," she said during an interview with the University of Waikato.

As a tutor for younger Māori students, she's looking forward to bringing her new skills home to pass on to her tauira. 

"We take on first-year students and we're almost like an older sibling. We give them advice on how to approach university and having that different approach to it is going to be really helpful."

She wants more Māori to get involved in science.

"Science itself is a diverse field so we need it to represent everybody in all of our diversity in New Zealand and it just gives also Māori more opportunity to have a say in what happens especially in these really technological fields." 

As well as science, St George is also interested in cooking at raranga.

"I ended up taking raranga which is Māori basket weaving and it just ended up giving me a chance to connect to a side of my culture and my family that I hadn't had a chance to really explore growing up and then I moved on to study at the wānanga as well."

The internship

During the internship at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, St George will work on taking data and raw images from space and translating them into different media to be understood.

"I'm really looking forward to meeting other like-minded people on the program, both interns and the NASA staff I'll be working with.  I've already had the opportunity to talk to some other interns online, and everyone's work sounds so fascinating, even when it's not a field I study," says St George.

Students will also work on projects on rotorcraft aeromechanics and finding Earth and super-Earth-sized planets light-years away.

Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford says it’s great to see New Zealand students grabbing hold of the opportunity to learn from some of the best in the space technology field.

"There are few places in the world where they could get an experience like this," he says.

“The government is committed to building an innovative space industry in New Zealand and the skills, knowledge and connections interns will bring home and share will help us build our space capability and inspire more young people to get involved in the sector."

The new group follows in the footsteps of the first four New Zealand students who participated in the International Internship Programme from June to August this year, with financial support from the New Zealand Space Scholarship.

Interns were selected from a pool of 250 applicants by the New Zealand Space Agency, part of Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and then secondly by NASA.

"The first four interns have described an amazing and valuable experience and I am pleased to see this opportunity extended to Finbar, Lynley and Sam," Twyford says.