In January, Jaden Chambers, a second-year UCF mechanical engineering student at the time, was accepted to NASA’s Pathways Intern Employment Program — an honor he didn’t think he could earn until he was encouraged by his friends and fellow Knights.

The program provides eligible students opportunities to gain work experience and explore careers while they’re still in schools. The highly competitive program draws up to thousands of applicants each semester for 15-35 slots at Kennedy Space Center, according to Pathways Coordinator Mai Miller. Each appointment lasts for an indefinite period up to a year and may lead to employment for up to six years for those who successfully complete the program.

With nearly 30% of Kennedy Space Center employees having earned degrees from UCF, Chambers shares what it’s like working for the company even before he’s completed his bachelor’s in the video above and more about his journey to NASA below.

Where are you from and why did you choose to attend UCF?

I was born and raised in West Palm Beach, Florida. I chose to attend UCF because of its connections with various engineering companies, as well as its networking opportunities. UCF also provides its students with a very good engineering foundation and has paved the way to success for many individuals. Not only that, but after the first tour I instantly fell in love with the campus.

How did you become interested in mechanical engineering? Have you always wanted to work for NASA/in the space field?

My passion for engineering began in elementary school, when I joined a club called SECME (Science, Engineering, Communication, Mathematics, Enrichment). This club allowed its students to explore their interests in the STEM field through projects, such as designing bottle rockets, mousetrap cars and solar powered cars. From then on, I slowly developed an interest in the robotics field and knew that it was a career I would want to pursue. I have also always had a passion for space exploration, and NASA combined my primary interests into one job. However, I’ve always believed that NASA was out of reach for me, so I can’t say that it was a realistic goal at the time. I had no idea that I would have the privilege of working at such an inspiring and incredible agency.

How did you become connected to the NASA Pathways Program? What are some of your major responsibilities?

I first heard about the NASA Pathways Program through a friend who recommended that I apply. Initially, I believed I didn’t have a chance of making it past the first step, but after working very hard to improve my resume and interview techniques, I was able to make it. Some of the major responsibilities in my branch, Construction of Facilities, include inspecting the mechanical equipment and reviewing the technical specifications. This allows me to view projects from across the Kennedy Space Center, and there are so many sights to see.

You’re a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and credit your experience with the organization with helping you earn the NASA internship. What have you learned through your AIAA involvement?

Through my involvement with AIAA, I gained a strong engineering foundation from my first year at UCF. I took part in the quadcopter design, airplane design, and NASA Big Idea Challenge. Each experience built on the last and allowed me to demonstrate the progress that I’ve made in the field. Quadcopter design taught me how to work in an engineering team, Airplane design taught me how to use CAD (computer-aided design) and laser cut, and the NASA Big Idea Challenge encouraged me how to think outside of the box.

This club is not only very engaging, but also a great way to learn fundamental concepts for engineering. AIAA has so many different projects and opportunities for any aspiring engineer, and I highly encourage anybody looking to get involved in the field to check it out.

You didn’t think you would be selected for this program, what does this honor mean? How has this experience helped you build your skills and confidence?

If this experience taught me one thing, it would be to never sell yourself short. After applying and landing the position, I learned that the only person that determines your potential is you. I highly encourage all students to shoot for the stars and never be afraid to try something new. Become involved, meet people, and build your engineering foundation as soon as you can.

You hope to design and construct robotic equipment that will be used in future missions. What do you love about working with robotics?

The thing I love most about the robotics field is that there is always room for innovation. No matter how incredible the equipment you design is, there is always some way to make it better. To me, it is very exciting to think about how far society will progress in the future at the pace we are moving now. Space exploration is a prime example of this, and I can’t wait to see how far robotics/engineering takes us.