1. Can you tell us a little about who you are and where you’re from?
I’m Nicholas Mejia, 26 years old, and I currently live in Belmont, CA. I spent most of my early childhood traveling until I was in middle school. During this time I lived in various US states and even Spain for two years. From middle school through high school I lived in Mendham, NJ and from there went on to college and a job.
2. What was your first impression of the Base 11 Internship Program, and how did you hear about us?
It is difficult to say what my first impression of Base 11 was because I knew nothing about it until I was in Pasadena other than they somehow helped me get an internship. I only heard about it because my professor pulled me aside after class one day and asked if I was interested in applying and that he would recommend me. I will say that after meeting some of the Base 11 personnel and working with them over the past summer, they are an enthusiastic group of people who are trying to make a positive difference in the world by helping STEM students obtain internships and acceptance letters from 4-year universities.
3. What was the most rewarding part of participating in a Base 11 Internship? Can you tell us about some aspects that stood out to you?
The most rewarding part of the Base 11 internship for me is the fact that I did real research and made real conclusions about it. In many classes you learn the building blocks of how things works but you don’t have the chance to apply it. Over the course of my internship I was able to peek deep into the world that PhD students and researchers live in by actually doing research. I built a model capsule and put it in a Mach 4 wind tunnel and analyzed how different gases behaved when interacting with the capsule. It was much more fulfilling than the daily grind through classwork.
My favorite part about the internship was working with the wind tunnel. The hands on experimentation was fun, interesting, and gratifying. As I worked more with Base 11 I realized more and more that they really want to try to help STEM students and were dedicated to doing so.
I had two main Caltech PhD mentors: Bryan and David. Bryan was responsible for my research project and was my main mentor. Bryan is a fun, smart guy who is captain of the Caltech intramural softball team, which I played on during my 10 weeks there, and is also intensely dedicated to his work in hypersonics. David was responsible for holding class sessions twice a week and he would lecture me on whatever he wanted to lecture on. Some examples would be deriving very important fluid mechanics equations such as Navier-Stokes or learning about Euler-Bernoulli beam theory. He also led tours to different labs at Caltech.
4. What was the most important thing you learned during your time in the program?
That it is possible to get the experience of an internship at once of the best institutions in the world without being a student at MIT or Stanford. I’m sure there were students from universities like those applying for the same position I received, but they didn’t get it – I did. I gave my full effort during those 10 weeks and my PhD mentor told me the experience with me was the best he had ever had and he has mentored 5 other students from top universities. So a big takeaway is: I was confident in my abilities before the internship, but after it, not only am I confident but I’ve also received some level of confirmation about them.
5. How has your life changed since starting the Base 11 program?
Before the B11 program I knew I would go on to receive either a Masters or PhD, but wasn’t sure which. After B11 the biggest change is that I think I might be leaning toward a PhD but it is still something I have a lot of time to think about.
5. Do you have any advice for other students who might be interested in these programs?
I would say, find something you love doing and do whatever it takes to do it. If you aren’t sure what you like, then don’t be scared to get your feet wet in a field you don’t know too much about. I was lucky – I knew I wanted to be an Aerospace engineer specializing in either hypersonics or propulsion and I was given a hypersonics related internship. I had an amazing time for the entire 10 weeks I was at Caltech because I made sure to ask as many questions about anything I was curious about. So I guess my advice is don’t be scared or shy, just go for it.
6. What are your plans for the future?
My plans are to be accepted into a 4-year university and then go on to receive either a masters or PhD. I’d like to be a university professor in aerospace engineering someday.