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Mid-Columbia teen is a big sci-fi fan. A NASA internship will bring her closer to the stars

June 26, 2022 Updated Mon., June 27, 2022 at 4:26 p.m.

By Eric Rosane Tri-City Herald

PROSSER, Wa. — Hannah Norris isn’t exactly sure what she wants to do when she’s older — but the young sci-fi fan is hoping to check “astrophysicist” off the list in the coming weeks.

That’s because she’ll be among a small number of high school students who will work as interns this summer in the highly-coveted NASA STEM Enhancement in Earth Science program.

During their two weeks on campus at the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Space Research, the students will conduct “hands-on activities, field investigations, attend presentations by NASA scientists and engineers, and work on various NASA missions,” a news release on the district’s website reads.

“The SEES internship proves that the excitement students feel about space science is a critical step in enriching science, math, engineering, and technology,” the release reads. “The internship will provide students the rare — and for most, unique — opportunity to spend two weeks working with professional scientists and engineers at the cutting edge of space exploration.”

Norris and 91 other peers were selected from about 1,100 applicants. On-site projects begin July 16.

“The reality is that it really hasn’t sunk in yet,” Norris, a senior at Prosser High School, told the Tri-City Herald.

Norris’ will work mostly on astronaut photography, which will see her work alongside researchers to study and produce content to be published on NASA’s websites and social media accounts. They’ll also work on climate science subjects and satellite observations, she said.

“It’s prime fuel for science fiction stories,” said Norris, who’s a Trekkie and big Star Wars fan. “It’s just so interesting learning about the fundamental makeup of the universe.”

She even played “The Force Theme” at the end of her application video.

“I think it probably just helped make me more memorable,” she said.

‘Too many career fields’

Norris is interested in it all — English, psychology, writing, art and drawing, law and justice, and especially cosmology.

This upcoming internship is just one thing she’s doing to try and find her true passion. She also recently attended a summer seminar at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

There’s just “too many potential career fields” out there, Norris said.

“The dream is to be a novelist. The pipe dream is to work for Marvel Studios,” she said. “I’d really like to have a job where I just keep learning.”

Norris is a National Honor Society student who’s served as president of Prosser’s drama club, vice president of the math club and will be a drum major next year in the school’s band. She also plays piano, trombone and a little bit of guitar, and has been involved in several high school theater productions.

This prestigious offer to work closely with NASA scientists and STEM professionals marks a rare opportunity for a student interested in possibly majoring in astrophysics — even more so for a student from Prosser, where athletics take a front seat for many of the 900 students in the district.

Earlier this month at a school board meeting, Norris spoke publicly about the challenges she faced as a student interested in STEM.

Norris, who served as a student rep on the board, said a lack of investment in the sciences was likely part of the reason why 10% of the school district’s student population have been opting out of attending Prosser.

She recently opted to take an online course at BYU just because “this school does not offer a calculus course.”

“I didn’t stay at PHS because the opportunities were great, I stayed because my parents thought I needed that high school experience. And I don’t regret it, but I still wish that the academic part of that high school experience could be something I knew was going to be great,” she told the board.

“A one-size curriculum does not fit all — I think you’re underestimating the students of this district and what we are capable of. We will rise to the bar that you set, but if you set that bar low how are we ever going to find our limits? How are we ever going to know what we’re truly capable of?” she continued.

Norris told the Tri-City Herald she thinks the district should focus on offering more advance courses that will draw students looking for a challenge, including students who opt to take programs like Running Start.

“I was very excited for my chemistry class this year, and I was rather disappointed when I got into the material of it and found that most of it was stuff I’d already learned from my own research,” she told the Herald.

The path ahead

Norris already knows which schools she’s interested in applying for starting next year: Gonzaga University and Western Washington University.

They’re both in-state, offer small class sizes and play host to bustling arts programs.

COVID was something of a turning point for her because she “couldn’t see how lonely she was.”

“I couldn’t’ see what my shyness was causing me to miss out on,” Norris said.

She’s content with the friends she’s made in her band class, but is looking to connect even more with other students from across the country this summer in Austin.

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