Graduate student snags job with NASA

Photo courtesy of Office of Engagement 

Destiney Burt/Staff Writer

After graduating college, some students have trouble finding a job–let alone their dream job. But that wasn’t the case for Rigoberto Roche.

Roche has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biomedical engineering and is now working for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

His job description includes writing code for the International Space Station and monitoring telecommunication satellites.

“FIU provided the basis for learning how to learn,” Roche said.  “From there I could take initiative and move forward.”

As an undergraduate at the University, Roche was involved in the NASA WaterSCAPES University Research Center, which led him to Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm, the program’s director and associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

The program, sponsored by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, focuses on research on the Florida Everglades and studies ecosystems that are similar in different parts of the world.

Roche participated in back-to-back internships at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

“I received my internship through WaterSCAPES. They have an agreement with NASA to take students from FIU to go to NASA to work on a project,” Roche said.

Roche also volunteered at the Science Bowl, which is held at the University and partly sponsored by WaterSCAPES. It hosts high school teams from across Miami-Dade to compete in a Jeopardy-style tournament and activities that promote science and engineering.

“I was working at the Science Bowl where I met Dr. Miralles and afterwards I applied for the internship and I guess he really liked my credentials; it fit what the program needed and from there I was able to go to Goddard,” Roche said.

Roche applied for the internship at Goddard in 2010, a year after the program was started.

Soon, Miralles became Roche’s mentor during the time Roche was receiving his undergraduate degree.

“He had very solid programming skills and this is something that NASA likes a lot,” Miralles said. “He was getting his undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering when we placed him at Goddard. He started working with a resourcer in an area of work that was completely different than his background.”

According to Miralles, Roche had a good attitude about learning something new and working outside of what he was getting his degree in.

“I’ve been teaching for 20 years and I haven’t run into many people like him–who are so committed and put in a lot of hard work,” Miralles said.

Out of 20 interns, Roche was the only one who received a job offer.

“I like learning a lot as an engineer, although there will be a point in the career when things slow down,” Roche said. “But learning is the only way you can enjoy what you do. It’s something that has to grow as you grow.”

Miralles stresses the importance of internships for the student to gain experience and know the reality of what they want to do with their future.

“I think first is to realize opportunities and take advantage of them,” Miralles said. “It doesn’t mean that it will fall in your lap, but you have to look for opportunities and work for them.”

[pullquote]“I think first is to realize opportunities and take advantage of them,” Miralles said. “It doesn’t mean that it will fall in your lap, but you have to look for opportunities and work for them.”[/pullquote]

To Miralles, learning and having a good work ethic is having a sense of moving forward.

“That’s something Rigo had very clearly,” Miralles said. “This guy wanted to get ahead and he didn’t show any concern about working hard, its just the way he’s built.

Roche acknowledges Miralles as his mentor and in helping him gain experience through his internships.

Now Roche is completing his master’s in science and electrical engineering and will return to NASA once he earns his degree.

“I’m really proud of him. It’s like a child of mine who accomplished something,” said Miralles.

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