Intern Insider: Senior Laurel Wind crunches numbers with NASA

The media analytics and communication design major stretched her analytics skills this summer investigating the economic impact of NASA inventions.

Senior Laurel Wind wanted a challenge. The media analytics and communication design major was looking for a different summer internship, something that would allow her to grow her skills in analytics. She desired to do more than study social media reach and website traffic.

She found what she was looking for at NASA.

“My two main goals this summer were to be exposed to a side of analytics I hadn’t been before and to learn how to communicate trends effectively to a different audience,” she said.

Wind worked as a technology commercialization analyst intern at the NASA Langley Research Center, the oldest of NASA’s field offices, in Hampton, Virginia. She was tasked with investigating the economic impact of companies that have licensed the patents to technology NASA has invented.

She researched how companies were using the technology and evaluated its economic impact, which covered revenue generated, jobs created, investments and more. Then, once she had all the necessary numbers, she would design a timeline to explain her findings.

“The giant timeline was broken down into how long a company needed to get to prototyping, the jobs generated during the prototyping phase, sales, revenue and other things,” Wind said. “It was a journey map of what happened after a company licensed the technology.”

The internship may have been analytics-focused, but the design element allowed Wind to draw on expertise from both her communications majors.

“They definitely play well together,” she said. “Just having an eye for design and for what looks good definitely helps in reports and graphs and charts. If you have numbers but can’t communicate them in a way that’s appealing and easy to look at and understand, then the numbers won’t have meaning to wider audiences.”

Before NASA, Wind honed her skills in media analytics with Elon News Network. In fact, she’ll run the organization’s media analytics department this year. She counts her experience at ENN as particularly helpful during her internship.

But she also credits Phi Psi Cli yearbook, for which she served as editor-in-chief during her junior year, and WSOE 89.3 FM, where she hosts a radio show, as being catalysts for her success.

“I honestly think everything at Elon helps you in some way,” she said. “Going into the internship I didn’t know what was going to help me except for ENN and doing analytics for them. But being editor-in-chief of the yearbook and having to manage a lot of moving parts and doing a regular show with WSOE and learning to be a better communicator all helped.”

But how did Wind wind up at NASA? Or, why did she even consider it? It’s because Wind grew up in Yorktown, Virginia, which is only about 15 miles from the NASA branch in Hampton. Living all those years just a quick drive from the office sparked in her a professional interest.

She completed a lengthy application and interview process that ended in mid-March when she was offered the internship. When she started, her supervisors gave her a list of 50 companies to research, and she started in earnest, emailing and phoning organizations to begin to understand how they were using NASA’s technology. On the whole, she said, her supervisors were pleased with her output.

“They told me that even though I won’t see the benefit of my work right now because I wouldn’t be there long enough to observe the entire process, they reassured me that what I did was helpful,” Wind said.

Still, it wasn’t all numbers and timelines for Wind. She saw moon rocks, attended a town hall with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, and tried on a space suit. That bit of costuming proved somewhat prescient. The interns – a little more than 250 of them – created a high school superlative-style contest, and Wind placed second in the Most Likely to be an Astronaut competition – an honor she accepts but still doesn’t completely understand.

Her budding career as an astronaut notwithstanding, Wind is pleased she had the opportunity to gain a deeper and broader understanding of media analytics, the actual job path she hopes to pursue after graduation.

“I figured this would be the last internship in which I could do something different, something I hadn’t done before,” Wind said. “So I took the NASA route. I really wanted to challenge myself. The internship is going to shape my time at Elon because I’m starting to understand a whole new side of analytics and audience communication. I wanted to do something different this summer that would expand my horizons, and I definitely achieved that.”