Pathways to STEM Careers, Strategic Partnerships help student land Boeing internship
Eric Washington said that if he could go back and tell his high school self what he’s doing now, he’d never have believed it.
“Before coming to University of Houston-Clear Lake, I had no idea I could ever work at NASA with astronauts. I would never have imagined I’d be doing this,” he said.
Washington, who is pursuing his Bachelor of Science in Computer Science at UH-Clear Lake, reflected on his journey to landing an internship with Boeing, secured through an agreement signed in September 2022 enabling Boeing to offer engineering students entry-level engineering internships that support multiple projects.
After beginning his academic career at University of Texas at San Antonio, Washington quickly realized it wasn’t a good fit for him.
“I came to UHCL after one semester at UTSA because I thought the degree program was better and much more affordable at UHCL,” he said. “One of the most important things that happened to me when I came to UHCL is getting involved with Pathways to STEM Careers. They really supported me as a first-generation student. I came with the goal of getting involved in everything I could and just getting an internship—I didn’t care where.”
He said (Program Director for Pathways to STEM Careers) Andrea Alvarado had consistently kept him informed about opportunities like research assistantships.
“People should know the importance of getting involved with Pathways,” he said. “They are out there to help propel students upward. If you’re a minority or receiving a Pell grant, Pathways is an organization that will open doors for you, but they have high standards for staying in. You have to maintain a GPA of 3.0, but that just reinforces that if you keep studying, you’ll have a job and go to school—you can’t lapse; you have to put in the effort.”
Through Pathways, Washington received a technical assistantship, and from there, he received a research assistantship with (Associate Professor of Software Engineering) Soma Datta.
“I took a project management lead role in helping her create a virtual biology lab,” he said. “From Dr. Datta, I learned to program using a game engine called Unity. I learned about game design and acquired project management skills. I had a great experience and really enjoyed it.”
But although he was applying for other internships, specifically at NASA, he was rejected from all of them.
“When I joined the National Society of Black Engineers, I met two students who were NASA interns and they told me to apply again,” he said. “I finally got a NASA internship with the University Space Research Association and did flight software development, edited code and created an interface for the workout machine on the Artemis capsule. I had a great experience and met a lot of people. I learned what it was to be a software engineer.”
He learned some programming languages along the way, as well as virtual reality development while at NASA.
“That brings me to this Boeing internship,” he said. “I did not actually apply for it. I left my resume with (Strategic Partnerships Internships Coordinator) Bernadina Streeter. She is the one who called me and said my experience with VR development, game engines, and Unity was appealing to Boeing. They called me.”
After practicing his skills with Streeter, Washington interviewed with Boeing and landed the internship.
“At Boeing, I’m creating a VR tool that allows engineers to demonstrate usage of the Pistol Grip Tool, which drives bolts on the International Space Station,” he said. “We are creating a VR mockup to help us see if a tool fits in certain areas. We’re using VR to find out if astronauts can manipulate the tool to bolt things down. If we can go in VR and do it, then we don’t have to use more expensive resources.”
He said he remembers his thoughts about what his career path might be back in his high school days.
“I thought I’d get a job in some software company and work at a desk,” he said. “But after listening to the speakers I have heard while at UHCL, and getting the first NASA internship, I knew I would like to stay in aerospace. Now that I’m at Boeing, I get to go to work and say the software I’m working on is cutting edge. I’d like to retire someday from a career related to space.”
Washington advises others in his position not to worry about making mistakes.
“That’s what makes you human,” he said. “But learning from them is what propels you to better positions. Never think there is just one way to do things. Don’t limit yourself to a box. Remove the box! You can do anything you set out to do, it just takes time.”
He said his internship at Boeing reaffirmed his desire to stay on this path.
“I go to work and I’m really happy with what I’m doing,” he said. “This internship will make my ultimate career goal happen for me; UHCL is right across the street from NASA. This university has given me so many opportunities, and that’s why I’m trying to do a good job for UHCL and Boeing.”