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October 12, 2017

Communications key for NASA intern Stuart Collins

Communications key for NASA intern Stuart Collins

As part of his internship as a 3D modeler and animator at the NASA Glenn Research Center, Stuart Collins was called on to animate the Atlas V rocket.

The project required a team effort, but Collins's contributions were different skills from those of his NASA colleagues, most of whom are engineers and scientist.

“They trusted my judgment and gave me free rein to proceed as I thought best,” he said.

It was a new professional frontier for the senior Game Design major.

Collins’ summer job provided a chance to develop software chops he learned in Game Design at CIA. “Professor Robert Brown’s courses on modeling really helped me understand the fundamentals of character and environment modeling,” Collins said. “Then I was able to build on this knowledge and further experiment on my own to find solutions for new problems that came up during the modeling project, such as creating particle effects. I learned a slew of techniques in Maya (a 3D modeling software platform) that I didn’t know before. ”

Communication proved important in the NASA environment, where project teams include people from a variety of disciplines. “Each side uses different vocabulary, has different expectations, and deals with totally different tasks and approaches to solving them,” he said. “Coming up with solutions that satisfy both the artistic and scientific requirements is sometimes challenging.”

The differences between class assignments and real-world work became evident over the course of the job, Collins said. “Creating 3D modeling and animation projects have a lot more moving parts than I thought before doing this internship,” he said. “I have to really plan my work, because when I am a member of a team, I can’t work on my own deadline. Other people have parts of a larger project and will depend on me to have my piece of the project done on time.”

And of course, he said, there are often unexpected problems that can cause delays. “In the classroom, the instructors know where the pitfalls will be, because they plan out all the parts of the assignments. There are clear instructions and deadlines and they are there to check our work so we don’t get derailed,” he said.

Beyond tasks and projects, though, Collins learned what it means to get up every day and head to the office. “It’s a lot harder than going to school,” he said. “I will always remember that first realization that holding down a job and working for a living will be just that — work. Even though I am learning a lot and I know this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, there are days when it is tough to face the job. I will look back on this time and realize I grew up a little more because of this experience.”

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