Like many children in Central Florida, Andrea Coloma grew up fascinated with space and dreamed of working for NASA; unlike most teenagers, she has already achieved that goal.
Coloma, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, recently finished illustrating an educational children’s book for NASA’s Space Communication and Navigation (SCaN) program. The achievement resulted from her fifth and final internship with the organization.
Her parents immigrated to the U.S. from Ecuador, and the graphic design major felt she needed to secure a professional internship to prove that an art career could pay the bills. As a high school senior living outside Orlando, Coloma focused on the two most significant local companies she could think of – Disney and NASA.
“I literally just looked up ‘graphic designer NASA’ in LinkedIn and emailed a bunch of people that came up,” said Coloma, 19. “I think I messaged like 30 people, and the only person that got back to me was my mentor, Molly Kearns.”
Kearns is a digital media specialist with SCaN at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. She organized a meeting with Coloma and some of the facility’s graphic designers, which led to a shadowing position on the Policy and Strategic Communications team.
Despite being fresh out of high school and new to the design world, Coloma proved to be a fast learner. By the end of that summer, Kearns asked her to illustrate a newsletter page highlighting the interns’ accomplishments.
“I obsessed over that one page all summer,” said Coloma. “Because at that time, I had no professional experience at all.”
The experience proved the financial viability of an art career, and Coloma enrolled in USFSP’s graphic arts program in the fall of 2021. While she noted that her family in Ecuador was already ecstatic after seeing the newsletter on Facebook, Coloma’s role with the space agency continued to grow.
She said officials “must have been happy” with her work because the Orion Communications team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston invited her to participate in a virtual animation internship. Coloma noted that she learned how to complete basic animations just days before the interview.
The session went so well that the Orion team asked her to return for another internship. They also tasked Coloma with creating three one-minute children’s animation videos explaining how the Orion spacecraft would use a distant retrograde orbit during Artemis I.
A USF release notes that the first woman and person of color will land on the moon by 2025 as part of NASA’s historic Artemis missions.
“It’s a pretty big deal to be published by NASA,” said Coloma. “I mean, it was huge for me and my family. It makes me feel more secure that I am succeeding – and will hopefully continue to succeed in this career.”
Coloma said she learned to “trust the process” through those first few internships. She noted that some aspects of her work looked a bit rough initially, but she gradually honed her skills.
Despite adjusting to living away from home for the first time and completing her first year in college, Coloma continued to find success at NASA. The Policy and Strategic Communications team asked her to return to where it all started last summer, this time to illustrate the entire newsletter.
Coloma explained that she chose a visual direction, pitched art styles and then adjusted the look according to feedback. She felt comfortable illustrating at that point and said the endeavor proved “a little challenging” yet rewarding.
She completed the children’s book in her fifth internship during the Fall 2022 semester. It highlights SCaN’s role in the Artemis I mission, which successfully returned to earth Dec. 11. A USF release noted that NASA plans to publish the book this year.
Although nothing is official, Coloma hopes to continue working with the space organization this summer. She is also interested in experiencing other work environments and said her primary focus is building her portfolio as part of USFSP’s graphic design program.
Regardless of what happens next, Coloma relayed the importance of making her parents proud.
“It’s difficult when you’re coming here as an immigrant,” she said. “It was a struggle for a while, and they worked really hard to give me all the things I have now. So, just doing things that they can be proud of is a great feeling.”
View the full newsletter here.