NASA Internship Paves the Way to a Galaxy of Opportunities

April 20, 2015

Hometown: Brick Township, New Jersey
Major: Physics, Astronomy Concentration (minor in Math)
Placement: Brown University - Planetary Geosciences PhD candidate

Ashley Horan ’15 had been captivated by the night sky since she was a little girl and when Professor Alessandro Massarotti saw her promise as an astrophysicist he guided her to a constellation of opportunities that allowed her to explore her passion to its fullest.

“From day one he said ‘You have talent and I am going to push you to do the best you can do,’” says Ashley, who graduates in May with a degree in physics and begins her graduate studies at Brown University in June.

The road to that opportunity began after freshman year when she began assisting Massarotti on independent research at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, where he has been creating computer simulations of rocky planets’ interiors. It’s the kind of work that helped her secure a Clare Boothe Luce Scholarship.

With support from Massarotti and help from Career Services Director Heather Heerman, Ashley then secured a coveted internship at NASA. That in turn led to an opportunity to present her research work at the American Geophysical Union Conference in San Francisco where she met with scientists from the Planetary Geosciences Group at Brown and committed to pursuing her doctorate in their program.

“Ashley is a student with rare qualities,” says Massarotti. “She is a beam of light that shines with enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity, a leader and an example to follow for other students.” 

Ashley says she benefited from two aspects of her studies that in many ways represent the spectrum of a Stonehill education. The first was math, in which she decided to minor. She says it helped her immensely in creating the models and formulas at the heart of her astrophysics work. The other was philosophy. “I had a course that involved a lot of journal writing, which helped me improve my writing. But it also helped me look at the world and science from a different perspective.”

Those critical thinking skills combined with the research she was able to do while at Stonehill helped her as a scientist and gave her an edge when pursuing competitive internship and graduate school opportunities.

“I was that kid studying constellations and point out all the different stars to my family,” she says. “It’s definitely a passion and I know how lucky I am to do what I’m doing.”