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Student Spotlight - Claire Handley DRC'22


Claire Handley DRC’22 is reaching for the stars.

“With the help of Douglass, I learned that no dream is too big to chase,” said Handley.

A materials science and engineering major, Handley is the most recent Douglass student to land a research internship position at NASA, the nation’s top agency for space exploration. Handley, who aspires to a career in aerospace as a materials engineer, worked at the Metallurgy branch of the Materials and Processes Laboratory at Marshall Space Flight Center. There, she worked as part of a research team studying the failures in metal space flight hardware.

“Working at NASA was one of the most incredible experiences I ever had,” said Handley. “Hearing teams of incredibly passionate people work towards solutions was inspirational.”

While the internship was remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Handley still found ways to make the most of the opportunity. Alongside her mentor, the assistant branch chief and subject matter expert in failure analysis, she took part in video calls to discuss sample preparation and techniques, remotely accessed an optical microscope to photograph causes of failure in metal space flight hardware, and observed samples under a Scanning Electron Microscope and Energy Dispersive X-ray Spectroscopy.

“The results of these techniques helped the team to form a big picture of why a hardware part failed and how to improve the part to prevent the same failure in the future,” said Handley. “The meetings with other NASA teams as well as commercial crew program teams were fascinating. I learned so much about theorizing and problem-solving.”

Handley is looking forward to returning to NASA during the summer and next fall to continue her work.

At Douglass, Handley is an active member of the Reilly Douglass Engineering Living-Learning Community (RDELLC), an initiative that empowers Douglass students in engineering.

“The Reilly Douglass Engineering Living-Learning Community has been the root of so many of my incredible experiences,” she said. “I will never be able to thank my older sister enough for convincing me to follow in her footsteps and join the program. Living with such an incredible group of women really helped me to gain confidence and overcome impostor syndrome when it came to difficulties in engineering.”

She also took part in the externship experience through the Reilly Program at the BOLD Center at Douglass for Advancing Women’s Professional Development. Handley shadowed a Douglass alumna in her engineering job at Mondi Tekkote.

“In just that one week I learned so much about what I wanted my future career to look like, and what I didn’t want it to look like,” said Handley.

For Handley, Douglass has been a major source of empowerment and confidence throughout her college career.

 “My amazing peers and mentors in RDELLC and Douglass inspired me to aim higher and keep my head up,” she said. “Applying to positions that I thought were far from achievable caused me to get that NASA internship. The first time I applied to a NASA internship I was shocked to get an interview, and then I was rejected. With the encouragement of my friends from RDELLC and Douglass, I applied again and was selected. I have no idea what my career path would look like today if I didn’t have those amazing women in my life telling me I could do it.”

Outside of engineering, Handley is passionate about music. She plays the French horn in the Rutgers Symphony band and mellophone in the Pep Band.   

“If I didn’t have the amazing support from Douglass giving me the courage to literally shoot for the stars, I wouldn’t have gotten so many incredible opportunities!”