She’s busy exploring the Final Frontier


Mihika Gokarn

Senior Madison Cicchitto.

For many students, working at NASA is a seemingly unreachable goal.

But senior Madison Cicchitto reached for the stars and scored the opportunity of a lifetime at just 17 years old. 

For nearly six months, Cicchitto worked to earn an internship at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View. She earned the internship and began in early October thanks to iQuest, a class that allows students to pursue their passions through an internship program.

iQuest enabled Cicchitto to explore her interest in engineering and decide if it was a field she truly wanted to pursue. Through the class, she has done everything under the sun to further engineering as a potential career choice.  

During the internship, Cicchitto gets exposure to the various jobs within NASA. With the help of a mentor, she gains real world experience through a hands-on approach. 

She currently works in the Human Systems Integration Division, which uses human performance and designs to contribute to the goals of NASA’s missions. There, she conducts research while touring different labs in search of new projects to work on. 

“I think the project I’m going to work on for the year is going to be a 737 airplane simulator where they simulate flights on an airplane,” Cicchitto said. “They have a mini dome projector and that’s where the simulator is and they’ll test the capabilities of the plane. That’s what I’m most interested in.”

She first learned about the internship from iQuest teacher Shanna Gagnon, who helped her earn this internship because she saw Cicchitto’s work ethic and dedication to mechanical engineering. 

They worked together and reached out to a contact Gagnon had from San Jose State who previously got her students into the NASA program. 

“I facilitated it for her and made the connection,” Gagnon said. “I worked out the details for her through my contacts.”

At first, Cicchitto had hope, but lacked confidence in getting the internship because NASA is one of the most important agencies in the world. 

But she is now glad she didn’t give up.

“She was very patient in terms of making sure that she had the right internship, so she was willing to continue to work until she found the one for her,” Cicchitto’s mother, Robin Cicchitto, said. 

After six long months, NASA finally gave Cicchitto a spot as an intern. This was very unexpected, but beyond exciting for her. 

When she arrived at the gates of the Ames Research Center for the first time, it was nervewracking, but surreal and an unbelievable moment for her. 

“I’m so thankful for this opportunity because it is something I’m really interested in and passionate about,” Cicchitto said. “Every time I go there, I learn something new and I just get so happy.”

Cicchitto is determined to pursue a career that incorporates space or robotics. Working for NASA has always been her ultimate dream career because she was always drawn to mechanical engineering and space as a child. 

“Ever since I was young, I built with legos and I grew up doing that stuff ,and my dad and I always launched model rockets and built World War II replica planes,” Cicchitto said.

Her friends, teachers, and family also played a significant role in her experience. She describes them as very supportive of her goals. 

They were overjoyed to hear the news of her acceptance into the internship and have very high hopes for her future endeavors.   

“I’m super proud of her. From the second she got into iQuest, she took it very seriously,” Gagnon said. “She contacted many organizations and has been incredibly professional.” 

Cicchitto’s friends and family never doubted that she would achieve great success because of her hard work. They always encouraged her to persevere, regardless of any obstacles she may have faced. 

“I was so happy for her because she deserves it and she spends so many hours outside of school working on it,” said senior Maddie Calcagno, one of Cicchitto’s friends. “It was really cool to see her get the internship because she’s been wanting it for a while.” 

This, however, is only the start for Cicchitto’s ambitious journey as she reaches new heights that are out of this world.