In an introductory computer science class, La Salle University Associate Professor Margaret McCoey noticed something distinctive about freshman Courtney Ashmon.
“I don’t know what it is about her, but she just gets it,” McCoey said.
Ashmon gets it and much more. During the past four summers, she’s been interning with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, Md., working on Web sites and coding, in particular the Web page for the Minority University Space Interdisciplinary Network (MU-SPIN). “This Web site is a source for minorities at universities to connect with one another and to share outreach on events, scholarships, and more,” said Ashmon, who is majoring in computer science and information technology at La Salle.
Ashmon had no real interest in computers during high school, and she only took a computing class because it was required to graduate.
“I never expected to do well because I had no experience,” Ashmon said. “Unexpectedly, I performed so well that I not only aced the class, my teacher told my mother I would one day work in computers because she thought I was gifted. Ever since, I can’t stay away from computers and technology.”
When Ashmon, who is from Washington, D.C., heard about NASA internships for high school students and graduates, she decided to give it a try, and she landed a spot in a robotics “boot camp.”
She discovered that, like a military boot camp, a boot camp in computers would not be easy. The camp ran for eight hours a day, five days a week, for 10 weeks. But Ashmon said it was worth the grueling effort.
“It forced me to stay on top of time, learn how to solve problems in a short time, and learn difficult pieces of programming languages that I had never seen before,” she said. “It was difficult for me in the beginning because, again, my only experience was the classes I took in high school, which did not come hard to me at all. When I suddenly jumped into robotics boot camp, it came to me as a shock of how fast things went and how much was expected of us. However, as I began to learn and master the art of coding, it became easier to manage with time.”
When Ashmon was looking at colleges, her high school advisor suggested La Salle.
“I came to campus and it all fell together,” Ashmon said. “I met a few teachers. I knew it would be a comfortable fit.”
McCoey said that, in introductory computer science courses, the concepts and information presented may be difficult, but Ashmon “seemed to be able to pick apart the difficult pieces and see the major concepts come together.”
“She was able to provide scenarios in real life depicting the types of theory we were discussing,” McCoey said.
At GSFC this summer, Ashmon is helping her supervisor to shift the focus of MU-SPIN in order to increase the use of multimedia platforms to communicate achievements and opportunities.
“The information exchange is as critical as ever, and Courtney’s assignment is to transform our old way of collecting information and updating the Web site in which social media applications will be infused to allow users to post their own content and keep it current,” said James Harrington, a NASA Learning Technologies Manager and GSFC Education Professional Development Lead.
“The updated site can allow people to post their opportunities for faculty and students for research, scholarships, and internships. Courtney will design a forum for team building and best practice sharing. In essence, we are changing the direction of the site from NASA to our stakeholders,” Harrington added.
Ashmon said her four internships at GSFC have been invaluable learning experiences.
“Each summer I learn more and more about the work force as well as things that benefit me in my major and career,” she said.
La Salle University was established in 1863 through the legacy of St. John Baptist de La Salle and the Christian Brothers teaching order, which St. La Salle founded in 1680. La Salle is an educational community shaped by traditional Catholic and Lasallian values.