Brilliant launch

Johanna Lucht (’14, computer science) was at NASA this summer, helping create a collision-avoidance app for pilots. She interned through a program for students with disabilities who are strong in science and aiming for technical careers.

Q&A with Johanna Lucht

Hometown: Anchorage, Alaska

Can you briefly describe your NASA internship?

It was a ten-week summer internship at Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. My role was to develop/improve graphic elements and human interaction aspects of an Android app called Improved Collision Avoidance System. It is for stand-alone Android devices and will provide a warning cue to the general aviation pilot whenever the pilot is very close to or is about to collide into the terrain.

What was most meaningful about the experience?

That they granted me the opportunity to work along the most brilliant, helpful, and awesome people who also have an excellent sense of humor! They taught me so many things. I certainly do miss them and even after my internship ends, I still chat with my mentor and other people I met outside of my branch.

How did the experience change you?

I can never look at airplanes the same again. :-) Seriously, at first I was concerned that a real world job would be very different from the U in terms of accommodation and services [for people with disabilities]. Eventually, I realized that my concerns were baseless, because the most important method of getting service hasn’t changed at all. The most important is being assertive in getting what you need in order to succeed.

Why did you major in computer science?

One of my top five strengths is Learner (in other words, I am very curious person). And the computer science major can be applied to many subjects. I feel that if I work as a programmer, I will get a chance to learn new things daily.

What do you love most about it?

The new challenges and puzzles it provides on a daily basis. I always get good feelings whenever I overcome those challenges.

What’s your career goal?

To work at a company where I can improve the standard of living through technology. What does this internship mean for your career path? It confirmed that I indeed do enjoy programming and gathering feedback regarding graphic elements. I believe this experience will open doors to opportunities in my future career path.

Why the University of Minnesota?

It’s nice to have family nearby, disability services at the U are excellent, and I got a scholarship.

What’s been key to your U of M student experience?

Support system. When I first arrived, I knew nobody except for my brother, who lives about a half an hour drive away. I went out to make friends, meet more staff, and get involved with more groups to keep myself busy. At first I did that to overcome the homesick feeling, but now I do that for fun and to keep my work and personal life balanced.

What’s one opportunity you seized at the U?

I assisted at the Signmark concert, a Deaf Finnish Hip Hop artist. I co-presented with a fellow Deaf student as emcees on the stage in front of almost 800 people. That was the largest audience I ever had, and naturally I was so nervous that my brain was kind of jumbled. My friends did not believe that I was nervous, so I guess I did one heck of job up there. What’s one challenge you’ve faced in growing as a student? Figuring out why people look up to me as a leader. I have been pondering this question since I was 16, when all the members that were a few years older than me chose me as leader of a group. When I was 18 I decided that I wouldn’t be finding an answer anytime soon, so I just kept doing what I had been doing. A year later I decided to talk to a person who used to be my high school counselor. After that I realized that no matter what beliefs people hold, I have the ability to bring them together. Last semester I discovered another answer: my vulnerabilities. Let me clarify, I mean “vulnerability” as in courage to show who I am, as opposed to thinking, “I am wrong to have that weakness.”

Where do you find inspiration?

Helen Keller was my role model when I was young. I did not learn any language, not even English or American Sign Language, until I was nine years old. Like Helen, my family and I came up with home signs to communicate and eventually, when I learned language, I became so curious and kept asking about subjects and everything that I missed out earlier. Advice for freshmen? Go out and see what the U has to offer! There are many opportunities around corners and exploring them will help you figure out what you want to do in the future.

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