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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                           10/18/2018

                                                                                                (By Lisa Garrett)

LANGLEY, VIRGINIA --- Carrie Baxley fully expected to finish her Industrial Electronics Technology degree at Tri-County Technical College this fall while working as a BMW Scholar at the company’s Greer facility.  Instead, she is spending her final semester as Tri-County’s first NASA intern.

The 30-year-old Lexington native enrolled at Tri-County to prepare for a career change.  After high school she earned a bachelor’s in economics and statistics from Clemson University and a master’s degree in public health from USC, but hadn’t experienced career satisfaction.

Like so many college grads who struggled to find employment back in the 2009 recession, she was unsuccessful in her job search.  Frustrated, and with “no other options,” she did what many did -  she headed to grad school where she acquired another degree and substantial debt.  The economy had improved by 2011 and she landed a job as a research manager for a senior primary care practice in Columbia.

“I soon realized I kind of fell into a career that I didn’t want,” said Baxley.

That wasn’t the case when she enrolled full-time in Industrial Electronics classes and was accepted into the prestigious BMW Scholars program where she gained hands-on experience, earned a salary and received assistance with tuition, books and supplies.

“I had done what I was supposed to do – now I was doing what I want to do,” she said.

But this past spring, another unexpected opportunity arose – one she never dreamed possible – one she couldn’t turn down. 

“It’s a longshot that turned into the chance of a lifetime,” said Baxley, who was selected to intern at NASA’s Langley, Virginia, location as an (student trainee) engineer technician while taking her final two classes at Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton, Virginia.

She is an intern in NASA’S Pathways Intern Program for the entire semester.  “If I perform satisfactorily, and if the funding is there, I will convert over to the Engineer Technician Apprenticeship program and become a permanent employee with benefits and retirement while I complete a two-year apprenticeship,” she said.

The NASA Pathways Intern Program provides students with the opportunity to explore NASA careers and gain meaningful work experience.

 “Leaving BMW wasn’t easy,” Baxley said, “because it made a huge difference for me in school.  What I learned in class, I got to see happen at work.  It all made sense.

“I had a dilemma –  choosing between two wonderful career opportunities. I loved the BMW job but I have dreamed about working for NASA. When I told BMW I had a full-time position with NASA and I accepted it, they all supported me,” she said. 

She said the skills she learned at BMW will make her a better intern at NASA. 

She said her work at Tri-County turned her life around.

“When I moved here from Columbia, I was at a crossroads,” she said.  She worked at Clemson University for two years where she managed research projects for the experiment station and left that job to take a part-time job at the Botanical Gardens mechanic shop.  “I worked outside, fixing things, working with my hands.  I finally found a job I loved.”

But it was not paying the bills.  “My aunt suggested I go to Tri-County and talk to a counselor and see what my options were,” she said.

“After Industrial Electronics Technology Program Director Robert Ellenberg showed me the labs, I determined it was the best fit for me.  He sold me on the program. It was so cool.  I went home and applied to Tri-County.”  Baxley also applied to and was accepted into the BMW Scholars program.  By August she started the BMW Scholars program and was an IET major. 

This spring she discovered the Pathways Program while perusing NASA’s website. What caught her eye was a job listing for one engineer technician position at the Langley Research Center in Hampton.

“I applied – I really wanted this.  I met the qualifications but so did hundreds of others so I didn’t know whether I had a chance,” she said.  She talked it over with her spouse, applied, and forgot about it when she didn’t receive a response.

In late June she received a phone call – it was NASA calling about the Pathways Program.  “I was so caught off guard that I asked twice whom I was speaking with, just to verify,” she said.  A phone interview was set for the following Friday and she spent the next week preparing for the conference call which happened the next week.  Three hours later, she received a call requesting an in-person interview.

She flew to NASA June 25 and July 3 she was offered the internship which began August 6 and ends December 17, 2018.

She says the experience and expertise she acquired at BMW prepared her to secure the NASA job.  “Both jobs are deadline oriented and I will have to manage school and work as I did at Tri-County.”

She credits Tri-County instructors, like Ellenberg, for giving her “the best college experience ever.”  I didn’t really succeed academically until I got to Tri-County. I had never achieved a 4.0 (President’s List) until I got here. I succeeded because I was given the resources to succeed. When I need help, I get it.  If I have a question, instructors are always here to answer. Mr. Ellenberg loves what he does and that comes across.  He and other IET instructors have real-world experience and prepare you for jobs at places like BMW and NASA. If you do the work, you will succeed,” she said.