My (PAID) Summer Internship with NASA

Author: Derrick Raphael

When I was a sophomore in high school I believed I was the smartest student in my school, city or even the great state of North Carolina. Although I maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA I always wanted to challenge myself with additional summer activities or extracurricular involvement in school because I loved to challenge myself. Unbeknownst to me I was about to learn how truly “average” I really was when compared to my peers across the nation.

Due to a little luck and my humble upbringing I had the unique opportunity to develop a genuine friendship with the guidance counselors at my high school. At the time I did not realize the importance of relationship building but now several years later I can truly appreciate the skills I developed by treating everyone with respect as my parents raised me to do so. 

One of these guidance counselors who is dear friend to this day let me know about a little known program called NASA SHARP PLUS which was sponsored by NASA and allowed diverse and underrepresented individuals to conduct college level research after their sophomore and junior years of high school. I was one of very few lucky students nationwide to get selected for this honor where I was paid several thousands of dollars to create my own college level research while living and working at Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA.

This experience changed my life as I was quickly humbled the first day of orientation. My roommate had an SAT score 200 points higher than my own. He also had a higher “Unweighted” GPA having maximized his chances at taking Advanced Placement (AP) and Honors courses offered at his elite preparatory high school.

In less than 24 hours of landing in Louisiana I realized I was not so competitive. I was not so smart as my peers nationwide. And that revelation had the impact of a punch to the guy. My worldview was forever changed when I truly appreciated the amount of work necessary to not just to be the “best” or “top” student in Fayetteville, NC but what was necessary to be truly competitive with the best and brightest throughout the United States or around the globe.

After seizing up my competition in my NASA funded summer program I rededicated myself to academic excellence which later led to my acceptance to Princeton University.

That experience was quite humbling since a high school student to get accepted from my city was quite rare to any Ivy League institution let alone Princeton University.

This short post is just a reminder that you should never compare yourself to students in your sphere of influence but to the most competitive students around the world!

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