NASA‘s John C. Stennis Space Center is located in Hancock County, Mississippi, on the banks of the Pearl River. It occupies nearly 14,000 acres and is surrounded by a 125,000-acre acoustical forested area called “the buffer zone,” meant to provide a layer of protection between the general public and the rocket blasts that occur like clockwork, testing the engineering miracles that launch human beings into outer space.

Beyond the trees lie unexpected sights. Aside from the multitude of laboratories, towering scaffolding, space shuttles, rockets, and the massive plumes of smoke emanating from them during testing, Stennis is a city unto itself. There is a barbershop, a gas station, an automotive repair shop, and a supermarket—all far enough apart from one another that one would need to drive to move around the facility. Stennis’s official visitor center, the INFINITY Science Center, is a state-of-the-art, mostly glass-and-metal learning environment and museum that overlooks the calm waters of a pond, and where David Engel, a graduate student in Brooklyn College’s Department of School Psychology, Counseling, and Leadership, has just spent 10 weeks this summer as an intern.

“I still have some trouble processing the fact that I really worked for NASA,” says Engel. He was a counselor at NASA’s Astro Camp, teaching second to 10th graders the fundamentals of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), in the hopes of cultivating the next generation of astronauts and engineers.

“NASA gave me a particular kind of exposure in working with kids and helped me understand how children are much more concrete, tactile leaners than I previously believed.” Engel was responsible for leading classroom instruction, arts-and-craft/science projects, and field activities.

“I had the opportunity to help kids construct windsocks and stomp rockets, taught them about the four forces of flight and what keeps an airplane in the air,” he adds. “Although my area of study is education and not in the STEM fields, this experience enabled me to utilize my willingness to learn about things outside my comfort zone, improve my leadership skills, and reinforce my ability to build group dynamics.”

A Brooklyn native born to parents who are of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewish origin, Engel came to Brooklyn College after graduating from Baruch College in 2011 with a degree in industrial organizational psychology. He also spent some time working in real estate sales, honing his ability to build interpersonal connections, while attempting to discover his purpose. He believes he discovered his purpose here at the college, not only in the classroom, but also in his role as the career outreach liaison at the Magner Career Center, where he first learned about internship opportunities at NASA.

Outside of school, Engel is an active member and ambassador for Lime Connect, a not-for-profit organization focused on rebranding disability through achievement. They attract, prepare, and connect highly accomplished university students and experienced professionals who happen to have disabilities with the world’s leading corporations, such as Facebook, Google, and Goldman Sachs.

“This organization has connected me with valuable resources and amazing people. I think it’s important to surround yourself with self-motivated people who support you and provide honest feedback, which is something that I’ve learned being part of this organization, in my work experiences, and in the school counseling program at Brooklyn College.”

In addition to working with the future generations of space travelers and astrophysicists, Engel also had the chance to learn about astronauts. He discovered that it could take about 45 minutes to put on a spacesuit and that astronauts exercise for about 2.5 hours a day. During his time at NASA, he observed a rocket testing. He also had a conversation with Fred Wallace Haise, Jr., legendary Apollo 13 mission lunar module pilot astronaut, best known for the now ubiquitous phrase, “Houston, we have a problem.” His experiences on Apollo 13 were made into an Oscar-winning film starring Bill Paxton as Haise. Engel admits that when he first met Haise, he had no idea who he was.

“He was just walking through the halls and chatting with one of my colleagues about an event on aeronautics that he attended and I just joined the conversation, asking him how he enjoyed the event. My colleagues were a little shocked that I wasn’t asking about his space missions and such. It was really funny. [Haise] laughed about it.”

Engel is not Brooklyn College’s only NASA connection. At its 2011 Commencement Ceremony, the college presented Joel Levine ’64 with the Distinguished Alumnus Award. Levine is the senior research scientist in NASA’s Langley Research Center Science Directorate and also serves as chief scientist and principal investigator for the proposed ARES (Aerial Regional-scale Environmental Surveyor) Mars Airplane—a robotic, rocket-propelled aerial vehicle that NASA plans to use in a search of life on Mars.

“I was influenced by this outstanding institution and its very dedicated and excellent faculty,” Levine said at the ceremony. “I first saw the planet Mars from on top of Ingersoll Hall. Little did I know that I would spend the next four decades involved in our nation’s program to explore the red planet.”

Like Levine, Engel wants to be the kind of change agent that inspires and opens doors to a myriad of possibilities, whether that is as a career counselor or as a recruiter for a company like Facebook or Google.

“I want to help other Brooklyn College students have the same experiences that I’ve had at NASA, which my employment with the Magner Center helps make possible” says Engel. “I want to be a leader in whatever I do. Working at NASA has helped me improve on my strengths and realize my ability to make a positive impact on students’ lives.”

The Magner Career Center, founded by Marge Magner ’69, provides students like David Engel the assistance, skills, values, and opportunities that are essential to fulfilling their career aspirations thanks to the generous support of alumni and friends received through the Brooklyn College Foundation. To make a charitable donation to the Magner Career Center, please visit the center’s website.