Ramahi’s interstellar internship
Sahar Ramahi is a senior in mechanical engineering who took the semester off to do a co-op at NASA.
Ramahi works in NASA’s Langley Research Center in the Vehicle Analysis Branch. Using Creo and MATLAB Simscape, she creates and studies parts for a mechanical subsystem of a hypersonic scramjet. “We want to simulate our model in Simscape and see how it reacts when it's tossed up into the sky… Eventually, we’ll take prototypes and put them through wind tunnels to make sure they will operate efficiently,” she said.
Ramahi is also a co-founder of Community Oriented Device Accommodations (CODA), where she works with fellow students to design and build assistive devices for those in need. CODA was founded by a group of transfer students who met at Illinois after studying at various community colleges. Ramahi applied for the internship with one of her fellow CODA co-founders, Andrew Klingberg, who is also a NASA intern this semester working on conducting laser-based experiments in the wind tunnels Ramahi is using to test her designs.
Last semester, Ramahi participated in undergraduate research with Professor Leo Chamorro, where she studied the effect of magnetic fields on fluid dynamics. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, she was unable to complete the project, though she was able to participate in the key research and design phase.
With an early interest in math and science, Ramahi was motivated to pursue a career in mechanical engineering. When it came time to select a college, Ramahi enrolled in the Engineering Pathways program at Moraine Valley Community College, a two-year program that provides priority admission to The Grainger College of Engineering. She explained that the academic experience at the Engineering Pathways program is tough, but she thoroughly enjoyed it. She appreciated that all the teachers and mentors were invested in preparing the students for the transition.
One of the things she appreciates most about mechanical engineering is that it’s such a broad field. “You could just throw yourself wherever you like, and even if you change your mind about where you want to end up, you still have so many options,” she said. Ramahi said she is extremely grateful to have such passionate professors who have motivated her to become a better engineer.
Ramahi said her classes at UIUC gave her a solid background for her work at NASA, although she didn’t see it at the time. “I think for me, I struggled to apply what I learned in my classes in the real world. I really appreciated the mechanical design sequence because they allow you to apply the knowledge you learn in the classroom to a project right away. Having an internship definitely helps shed light on the knowledge you’ve attained over the years, as well.” She said that through her classes she gained a lot of key information and background knowledge, and then was able to see those topics appear in her work experience.
Next spring, Ramahi plans to continue to work for NASA part-time while she finishes her degree. She learned through her NASA experience that she really enjoys aerospace, and she hopes to continue in that field after she graduates.