By RYAN LAWRENCE
Before her high school career is over, Mullica Hill’s Sabrina Yeung is destined to make a name for herself in New Jersey interscholastic athletics.
A rising tennis talent, the junior at Lawrenceville School beat two of South Jersey’s top 12th graders last fall, a pair of student athletes two years her senior. Yeung competes in the sport nationally with her twin sister, Tiffany.
But Sabrina is equally impressive off the court and in the classroom. This spring, she earned a prestigious NASA-sponsored internship and finished it up last month.
The Student Enhancement in Earth and Space Science (SEES) summer internship, hosted by the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Space Research and sponsored by NASA’s Texas Space Grant Consortium, selects students each year to conduct authentic research using NASA data. The internship usually means spending a month in Austin, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Yeung and the rest of this summer’s interns worked remotely together via Zoom and Google Classrooms.
“I got lucky that they decided to host it online, because I was worried they wouldn’t do it,” said the student, who applied for the internship during the winter, before the pandemic.
“It was really amazing to be able to connect with other interns who have similar interests from all over the country. It was amazing and an honor to be selected to do the internship.”
The project choices within the internship include everything from learning about the hazards of near-Earth asteroids, analyzing data from NASA satellites to study climate change’s effect on water, and research on roving Mars. After being accepted into the esteemed program last spring, Yeung worked with fellow interns on sustainability research.
“The topics were a little different (this year); I think with coronavirus it shifted a little bit, but it was a good surprise to be able to work in sustainability,” she said. “My specific area for the internship was clean air, clean water and clean energy. My team wanted to find a common, middle ground for all three of them, so we found factories were one of the main ways that connected to all three aspects.
“I don’t think I would have been researching anything on factories if it hadn’t been for this internship,” Yeung added. “I definitely learned a lot, about factories, what they emit, and the methods they use and how it could be more sustainable.”
The results of the interns’ work are available for anyone to read on https://projectcleanearth.tech/.
“Our project primarily concentrated on the effects of COVID-19 on our water, air, and energy,” Yeung explained. “Our final proposal suggested ways we could use COVID-19 as a time to reflect and change how factories could operate to be more sustainable and emit less toxins, or to sustain the cleaner air that came with the shutdown of the economy.
“Ultimately, we found clean energy to be a common factor in our solution to both cleaner air and cleaner water. Not only did we create a website that informs people of what we discovered in our research and the solutions we came up with, but we also sourced local factories that could partner with us to develop cleaner production methodologies and work on these three grand challenges for our world.”
Yeung participated in the internship in July, with regular, two-hour meetings on Tuesday and Thursday, then working with her own team throughout the week, too. In June, prior to the internship, she had the opportunity to take an earth science class through the program.
“I really enjoyed it,” she said. “It was a lot about the data that can be collected from the NASA satellites, which was something I had never really learned about, so it was a really amazing experience and so awesome to be able to take that course.”
Yeung has plenty of time to decide what she’ll study in college, but the NASA-sponsored internship fueled a new interest in environmental science and sustainability, which she hopes to carry over into helping her community. As for when she’ll begin applying to colleges, Yeung may get a little help when college coaches have the ability to talk to her on the recruiting trail.
The high-achieving student athlete already has one reputable school in mind.
“My top option,” she said, “is probably MIT.”