A coating of desert dust is etched into the now-pronounced creases of my boot. My boots are forever changed, and so am I. Being out there in the desert, approximately eight hours a day for three days, was humbling. From the vastness of the scenery to the uneven terrain, to the dust devils to the olivine, the intensity and power of the natural world was remarkable. Experiencing the beauty and magnitude of the area made me realize how small I am — and how the problems that exist in my head are even smaller. Several lessons learned:
Prioritize time without a phone Although some areas had cell service, others didn’t. Regardless, I was supremely distracted from the screen. From the wonderful people around me to my all-encompassing assignments to my extraordinary surroundings, I barely thought about my phone — let alone social media! And when I did, it was for utilitarian purposes. When one of the vans got stuck, I Googled how much one should deflate a tire to get it dislodged from its pocket in the sand.
Learning truly is not limited to the classroom I participated in EVAs, or extravehicular activities, which simulate experiments that astronauts will potentially perform on other planets. During and after the activities, I learned from postdoctoral research scientist Zachary Morse all about olivine, basalt and geological processes. It was like a Science 101 course, but it was all out in the field. Being outside and learning about rocks as I physically held them was a throwback to when I attended Montessori school, which was focused on hands-on learning and its value. Zach was an amazing teacher, and I will never forget how impactful that experience was on my love of the natural world.
Saying yes Software engineer Benjamin Feist attributed his successes to the act of saying yes to opportunities. I wouldn’t have gone on this life-changing trip if I hadn’t said yes! Many other opportunities have come my way, which have led to other open doors, simply by welcoming them and then performing my best. To hear such an accomplished computer scientist say that yes is the answer was rewarding in itself. I will continue to say yes to opportunities, and I will think of Ben while doing so.
Professionalism and camaraderie If it’s one thing I learned from the trip, it is the coexistence of working together to achieve objectives in a professional manner while also remaining friends. I attended a meeting in the hotel one evening, which was a recap of that day. Seeing the scientists work side by side in the field laughing and engaging in teamwork to get a van out of the sand, to then a professional meeting full of rebuttals, concurrences and brainstorming was incredible. It made me realize that boundaries are healthy and vital.
Taking things for granted When you are out in the field, there is no bathroom. The bathroom is over the hill and yonder. You must bring your own water, and sometimes you have to ration your food based on what you brought. I began to truly appreciate the basic necessities and it made me actively realize that they are too important to be taken for granted.
Reminiscent of The Breakfast Club I knew nearly all of the El Paso-bound journalism students that were on the trip before we boarded the plane. But they were totally different people when we arrived back at JFK Airport after spending those five days together. I became closer to each and every one of them due to the fun I shared with them during the trip. I will even see Professor Zachary Dowdy differently, thanks to his adept workings at the Rubik cube. And fellow journalism student Emmanuel Jacquez for when he taught me slang at the dinner table with my peers sitting around me, hysterical. There were so many memories made!
Teaching NASA scientists about emojis and slang To date, the best day of my life was April 23, 2022. It was a day that had a van stuck in the sand and hours of driving. It was a day I felt a bit under the weather due to the heat and probable dehydration. But it was a wonderful day, and I will always look at the car ride back to the hotel fondly. It was Dr. Cherie Achilles at the wheel, Dr. Alice Baldridge in the passenger seat and a student from St. Mary’s College of California. For the duration of the lengthy, bouncy car ride, we talked about emojis. I told the scientists about the emoji of a little girl and how it connotes awkwardness. We were hysterical, feeding back and forth different slang terms and emoji usages we knew. We bonded by comparing our knowledge of slang from the East Coast versus from the West Coast and laughed at its silliness.
A song for the trip I tend to dedicate songs to certain experiences or trips I go on. It happens unintentionally; it ends up usually being whatever song I have in my head at the time, or a song I recently discovered that I can’t stop listening to. For this trip, it was “She” by Harry Styles. I listened to it in the shower, while applying sunscreen, while getting myself ready to go to Walmart to buy my next day’s lunch supply. I know no other songs by Harry Styles, but a fellow student journalist who attended the trip, Lauren Canavan, introduced me to the song — and it stuck.
I will always be grateful for the chance to work alongside NASA scientists. I learned so much: from science to working in a team environment to how to have fun. The time was a balanced mix of work and play, and I have been cognizant of applying that to my everyday living. I have developed friendships and relationships that I know will endure. I’ll always be grateful for my time in the desert.
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