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Employer Assistance & Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN): A service of The Viscardi Center.
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NASA Goddard Space Center Logo
Company Name:
NASA Goddard Space Center
Type of Industry:
Science & Technology; Federal government
Number of Employees:
Approximately 3,000 civil servant & 4,000 contractor employees

NASA Develops STEM Talent Pipeline through Inclusive Internships

Executive Summary

This case study describes NASA Goddard Space Center's approach to recruiting and engaging students with disabilities in its internship programs. Internships are one of NASA Goddard's primary sources for recruiting new talent. While all internships are open to any student, including those with disabilities, the Achieving Competence in Computing, Engineering and Space Science project (ACCESS), specifically targets undergraduate and graduate students with disabilities. NASA's centralized online system assists students to find and apply for any available internship. NASA Goddard's Disability Programs Manager (DPM) and the Office of Education's Lead for Students with Disabilities Program Manager assist students in obtaining needed workplace accommodations before and during the internship. The DPM also offers disability specific training and support to interns either in one-on-one or group sessions. This includes guidance about disability disclosure, Schedule A Hiring Authority for federal jobs, and referral to vocational rehabilitation services. The program aims to assist interns with disabilities to become independent self-advocates in the workplace, articulate their disability-specific needs, and obtain accommodations on their own as they transition to permanent employment.

Case Study

As a part of an internship series NASA Goddard Space Center manages the Achieving Competence in Computing, Engineering and Space Science project (ACCESS), along with all of NASA's internship programs, which include high school, undergraduate, and graduate students with and without disabilities, ACCESS seeks to assist the agency in identifying and recruiting potential job candidates. ACCESS specifically targets undergraduate and graduate students with disabilities and is managed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) through a grant. NASA also partners with the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP) to identify qualified students with disabilities who may be interested in applying for any of its internship programs. For summer of 2012, NASA Goddard's program included more than 450 interns.

To ensure that all students, including those with disabilities, can locate and apply for any of the agency's internship opportunities, NASA recently developed a centralized application process for all NASA Centers. The Student On-Line Application for Recruiting Interns, Fellows, and Scholars (SOLAR) allows students to search, view, and apply to the various internships and student opportunities using one website. Students can choose to apply for multiple internship opportunities using one application.

The application provides the option for students to disclose whether or not they have a disability. This information is only accessible to the Office of Education and is not distributed externally prior to the acceptance of the student into the internship program. Applicants with disabilities, who meet qualification requirements, are considered for the ACCESS program as well as for any other internship opportunity in which they express interest. Available internships include science and technology focused projects in addition to general opportunities assisting in human resources, financial, and communications functions throughout the agency. Science and technology opportunities might include tasks such as assisting scientists with data collection and analysis for research projects, assisting engineers with designing and developing products, computer programming, developing smart phone applications, taking inventory of materials, and producing science education products and programs. Depending on the needs of the particular office or lab, general opportunities might include an intern working in a public affairs office assisting with writing press releases, conducting outreach events, and managing social media communications.

With the student's consent, the Disability Program Manager, workplace mentor, Education Program Manager, and intern speak before the intern's first day to discuss the type of work the intern will be doing and any accommodations needed for the internship. Interns are provided an orientation that includes an introduction to the organization, security procedures and workplace policies. During this orientation, interns also learn about Advisory Committees (Employee Affinity Groups), employee clubs (e.g. running, astronomy, amateur radio) and are encouraged to connect with other employees on common professional and social interests. While there is no formal mentoring program, program managers help interns identify and schedule informational interviews and professional guidance. On occasion, the DPM has introduced an intern with a disability to an employee with a similar disability to network and receive informal mentoring. Many GSFC's civil servant employees with disabilities were NASA interns prior to permanent employment at NASA. Other networking activities include hosting a Celebrate Goddard Day for interns to meet directors, advisory committees, clubs, and providing an Intern Facebook page.

Internship program managers meet with each intern during their first week to see how they are acclimating as well as regularly throughout the internship. This provides an opportunity to address any challenges they may experience, offer support and discuss career plans and next steps. The Office of Education and the Office of Human Capital Management also provides educational sessions for interns on topics such as how to conduct an informational interview, how to navigate USA Jobs, and how to prepare a federal resume. Interns can participate in a variety of training opportunities offered to all employees including science and technology seminars and self-paced classes in the learning center.