Maia Huddleston applied to over 250 summer internships and ended up with a job at one of the most renowned research organizations in the world: NASA.
Since June, the junior mass media major and sociology minor worked remotely as an archives intern for the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Huddleston was part of the archives department, which is a division of the Goddard Space Flight Center Library. She was responsible for transferring photos taken in the years 1997 and 1999 from floppy disks to the archives website in order to make them more accessible for future generations. There are 10,000 total photos in the collection, and Huddleston was responsible for about 3,000 of them.
“I’m making sure that the photos can be preserved and uploaded onto the website for access by researchers in the future, so I’m working a lot with file organization, file renaming, file transforming,” said Huddleston said. “I’m working with command-line programming, and different software to try to transform the images from their original files that were on the floppy disk into files that are going to be accessible for people, especially as time goes forward and technology continues to advance.”
The photos mainly show events held at the Goddard Space Flight Center, such as public-speaking appearances by astronauts or operational photos of technology that NASA engineers have produced. Huddleston also worked with photos that showcase daily life at Goddard Space Flight Center, such as images of people working behind the scenes to ensure NASA missions are successful.
“I really enjoy the mystery of seeing these photos for the first time that they’ve been viewed in over 20 years,” said Huddleston. “It’s really interesting to see the culture of Goddard Space Flight Center and see the values that they uphold through these photos without ever stepping foot inside the buildings.”
Huddleston’s job could be tedious at times; however, she recognizes how important it is to properly preserve the photos while also making them readily accessible to researchers.
“Metadata doesn’t create itself, so you have to go through and keyword every single image,” said Huddleston. “If I’m looking at an image of multiple people working in an office, I have to type ‘people’ because there are people in this photo. Then, there are computers in this photo, so I have to put ‘computer.’ Then, when a researcher goes to search for photos with people or photos with computers on the archives website, they can find them.”
“My hands-on experience working at The Vidette has helped prepare me for this experience in ways I couldn’t have imagined,” said Huddleston. “Working with the newspaper was where I got most of my photo skills built up, where I learned how to work with high-resolution photos and how to organize them, and that’s really what my mentor was looking for when she was searching for an intern. My internship coordinator said that the last few interns they have chosen for this position have been photo editors at their school newspaper.”
Huddleston’s mentor and supervisor is Holly McIntyre, archivist for the Goddard Space Flight Center and also the acting chief archivist for NASA. She was hired as Goddard’s first archivist and tasked with starting its archives in 2015. McIntyre stressed that there are many employment options available at NASA that might not be expected, such as in the fields of library science, history, communications, records management, logistics, human capital, and education.
“One of the things we hope our archival interns discover is that NASA is so much more than science, technology, and engineering,” said McIntyre. “There are so many opportunities for professionals with skillsets and education outside of math, science, or engineering to contribute to the NASA mission.”
McIntyre is passionate about sharing her profession and the center’s culture with interns from many different backgrounds and interests.
“Something I hope Maia takes with her and applies to her career in mass media is that media is only as good as its metadata, which means that the context and the content of media is just as important—some might argue more—than what the human brain can see or hear from a piece of media. The metadata relating to media tells the story of what it is and defines its place in time and history,” said McIntyre. “We hope that Maia has enjoyed her time with us as much as we’ve enjoyed having her as part of our archives team.”
Huddleston also worked as a news reporter and photojournalist for The Vidette during the previous academic year, is social media coordinator for the ISU Photography Club, has a part-time job as a marketing specialist for the Dean of Students Office, and runs her own photography business. After graduating next spring, she would like to combine her passions for photography and writing with technology and design, while working for a company that aims to improve the world around it.
“I want to work with user interaction and design user experiences, and also strategize with content teams to create really interactive digital spaces,” said Huddleston. “What I mean by that is I want to work for a company where I can be creative, design an experience for people through a website, and work towards an ultimate goal or mission that I believe in by bringing my strategic, design, and visual skills to the table.”
Huddleston is also a Presidential Scholar and a member of Illinois State’s Honors Program. Last semester, she had the opportunity to work on a project with Drs. Stephen Hunt and Nathan Carpenter, during which she analyzed Twitter analytics from the presidential and vice presidential candidates during the 2020 national election. Huddleston looked at large amounts of data, broke it down, and visualized it in a format that was easier for people to understand, which directly reflects the work she does at NASA with converting the photos.
“Being a Presidential Scholar has strengthened my confidence and given me the ability to go out and search for things like my internship, because the Honors Program is incredible,” said Huddleston. “As a Presidential Scholar, I attend three or four seminars, which are specific projects you work on throughout the course of the semester with other Presidential Scholars, and those have helped me prep my portfolio and my resume drastically.”
Huddleston also believes that the basic course work for her studies, including learning video production at student-run TV-10, has helped her immensely during her academic and professional journeys, and will continue to be beneficial moving forward.
“Working in the field, even on smaller campus productions, has been super important because I’m learning those skills,” said Huddleston. “Employers do care about these things and want you to have hands-on experience, and you have to go out there and get it.”