Flinn Scholar Mitchell Zakocs shares his summer experience as NASA intern

September 16, 2022

By brianpowell

Mitchell Zakocs is a Class of 2021 Flinn Scholar studying computer science at Arizona State University. Over the summer, Mitchell was an intern at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Washington, D.C., which he describes as possibly one of the most enriching and challenging experiences of his life. Read more in this reflection about his internship and the advantages of joining the Flinn Scholars community.

This summer, I had the fantastic opportunity of living in Washington, D.C. to work at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. I met many incredible scientists, engineers, and people from all parts of the world dedicated to climate research, human exploration, and discovery. Many were even on my team. I worked alongside some of the masterminds behind the James Webb Space Telescope project, hardware engineers straight out of MIT, and other interns from universities all around the United States. Our project focused on optical communications, and more specifically, replacing radio waves with lasers to communicate with the International Space Station. I was personally tasked with designing and programming a simulator for the ISS hardware that would serve as a replacement for the real thing when it was busy with another team (and serve as an important testing/training tool for the launch team). This internship was possibly one of the most enriching and challenging experiences of my life and I am beyond grateful to everybody who made it possible.

I owe a huge portion of my summer experience to the Flinn Foundation. The Flinn Scholars Program connected me with a wide network of engineers, developers, and researchers who assisted me in my search for an internship this summer. I was originally referred to job posts for the NASA internship program through my good friend Alex Stoken, a 2015 Flinn Scholar, who currently works at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. If he hadn’t contacted me with these job postings, I would have never had the opportunity to work in such an incredible organization. And had I never joined the Flinn family, I would have never met Alex in the first place.

The Flinn Scholarship has done more for me than just providing job opportunities, however; it’s also introduced me to some of my favorite people and friends. This includes all of the wonderful people in my Flinn cohort that I see almost every day on the Arizona State University campus, but also the alumni who I’ve met through Flinn meetups and events. While I was across the country, I had the opportunity to meet with Flinn alumni who lived and worked in the Washington, D.C. area. This included members of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, important figures of the U.S. Treasury, engineers in the U.S. Army, and a couple of outstandingly humble lawyers from prestigious firms who are fighting for civil justice, immigration reform, and the betterment of our country’s legal system. I’m always impressed by the sheer diversity and expertise of the Flinn Scholars and their careers.

I would never have had the opportunity to travel and network as I did without the Flinn Scholarship, and this is certainly the biggest perk outside of funding my education. My cohort and the alumni network is filled with so many people that are following their passions and building incredible careers, and I’m very glad to be a part of it. I had a great time this summer and the whole experience definitely changed my outlook on my career and education.

The 2023 Flinn Scholarship application for Arizona high-school seniors is now open. Learn more and apply by Oct. 19.