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It’s Not Rocket Science!

March 9, 2010

By Dulguun Bayaara and Elana Ford

Rocket Scientist Samantha Infeld, Ph.D. and DJ’s Guzie and Solarz, also known as the “Rock-It! Scientists” both visited the Starting Blocks classroom in March to talk about their interesting career paths, which, despite sharing a name, could not be more different! Students enjoyed hearing about their experiences and the challenges that they have faced along the way in establishing their respective careers

Samantha Infeld works as a Space Mission Concepts Engineer consulting for NASA. In her role, Samantha works as a systems engineer, collaborating with many different types of scientists and engineers to define the specific scope for projects and create development plans for missions to meet their intended goals. She is currently focused on a new mission to research climate change called Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO). The goal of the CLARREO mission is to provide accurate records to enable long-term climate projections that can become the foundation for informed decisions on climate change policies. CLARREO was identified as a mission of national importance in the National Research Council’s Decade Survey report to NASA.

Samantha was intrigued from a very young age by the idea of exploration and has been working towards a career that embraces this idea her whole life. Her first foray into the world of aerospace was at space camp when she was 15 years old. That led her to enroll in a high school that offered an aerospace track, to the undergraduate aerospace engineering program at the University of California San Diego, and finally to Stanford Aeronautics and Astronautics where she completed her doctoral studies. She explained to the students that she spent a total of 12 years studying her field before starting formal work and reminded students of the importance of patience when it comes to career planning. She shared that when she first left graduate school, there were no openings in her area of interest, but through persistence and networking she was eventually able to land her ideal role. Samantha also shared her philosophy of “If it sounds scary to me, and it’s not going to hurt me, it’s probably a good thing for me to do!” This ideal led her to enroll in a Semester at Sea program while at UCSD. Through this program, she had the chance to study on a cruise ship for a semester traveling around the world, from the Bahamas to Seattle, stopping in ten countries in South America, Africa, and Asia.

Samantha also stressed that there are many different paths a person can take to come to work for NASA. Her colleagues include people from fields as diverse as business, biology, psychology, chemistry, and even art. She also talked with students about some of the important socio-political issues related to space exploration including leading the class in a mini debate about Property Rights on the Moon and a discussion about the business of retail space travel. Asked if she hopes to travel to outer space one day, “Yes definitely”, she replied, “Someday!”

Two days after Samantha’s fascinating presentation, two young men setting up turntables, speakers and computer equipment greeted students as they entered the Starting Blocks class. The Rockit-Scientists, Starting Blocks Mentor DJ Solarz (Etan Solarz) and his partner DJ Guzie (John Guzman) had arrived to discuss their career in the music business. The Rock-It! Scientists travel both domestically and internationally DJ’ing at nightclubs, casinos and special events. They also work as music producers, remixing tracks from artists of all kinds and featuring new talent.

They told students in detail about the kinds of projects they have worked on recently including a live performance in a cave in the Dominican Republic that had been retrofitted with plasma screen TV’s and fancy club lights. Lest students think that their career is all fun and games, Guzie and Solarz spent a lot of time talking about how hard it was to get started. Working on a limited budget, performing at events for a low pay, and getting themselves into the right networks was very difficult. They started making mix CD’s and handing them out to people; and through friends’ connections they slowly began to get gigs. They began working together because they were “tired of competing with each other for the same gigs and realizing that by working together we could create a sound that was truly unique.” When student Sharhonda Morgan asked, with a twinkle in her eye, if they had heard of “DJ ‘Ronda”, Guzie and Solarz laughed but reiterated that although it takes a lot of dedication to be successful in their line of work, the market is always ready new talents, both male and female!

The DJs also talked to students about the science of mixing, playing examples of tracks that were created by layering components (drums, vocals, etc) from multiple popular songs (often from different music genres) and altering the pitch of original tracks to allow for seamless integration. Students were challenged to “decompose” the tracks and call out what music they could identify. Hearing this section of the presentation, it was easy to see that that this team creates truly new music by using pre-recorded tracks as their fundamental building blocks in the same way that traditional composers use predetermined chord progressions in their work.

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