nasa history web photo 1

Graduate students in Dr. Ryan Weber’s Special Topics: Technical Writing at NASA participated in a unique collaboration with UAH Archives, Special Collections, and Digital Initiatives to create biographical sketches. Dr. Weber expressed that students searched through scores of NASA materials to create a biographical note based on The National Archives’ parameters. Dr. Weber stated, “in this project, students write biographies of eminent NASA figures from Huntsville, and in doing so, they learn about both NASA personnel and science.” The National Archives create biographical notes to create distinction among historical figures. Typically they include short pieces of information that will enhance the understanding of the figure’s life or significant events.

UAH archivist Reagan Grimsley provided students with access to the materials, and the UAH Archival Staff was on hand to assist during the process. When students made an appointment to come into the archives, archivists would guide them on the process of discovering background information and then would assist students based on their needs. Grimsley stated that there are several ways that collections such as NASA’s can be obtained, either directly from the organization or from a third party. The collections vary in their condition and archivists have to check for provenance - which is a method of keeping items in the order they were received if there is an original order.

Students visited the archives over several weeks to gather information, learning the process of using the archives. This included everything from completing a visitor registration form to the complexities of constructing material from original sources. Graduate student, Averi Vieira, discussed the research process of gathering information on NASA employee Charles Mauldin stating, “I decided not to describe the technical information besides the names of NASA’s projects and the names of the sections of the project that Mauldin worked on. I chose this strategy because it makes it more accessible to a broader audience.”

While learning the archival process, students met with both successes and challenges to their research. For graduate student Heather Alfonso a challenge encountered in the research process was budgeting time for material sourcing. Alfonso stated, “There was not a lot of detail in the archive file about the projects my individual worked on. It was mostly copies of personnel files and conference programs attended. I was able to extract some useful biography information, but it was somewhat tedious.”

Overall, students gained a broad insight of the research process and how to adapt for different challenges in order to complete the project. Students also found there was valuable information about NASA in completing the biographical sketches. Student Ethan Trapolino stated “I have a newfound respect for the work that archivists do, like holding the materials in your hand that fall apart. The transcript for the interview [of NASA Engineer, Charles Jones] was particularly interesting as it is something that I am doing in a similar way for my UX course.” Dr. Weber echoed this sentiment stating,

“The UAH archives are an incredible resource, and I love giving students an opportunity to engage with the staff and materials there. Because our class focuses on the role of communication within NASA past and present, it makes perfect sense for students to examine the documents that helped make NASA projects a reality.”

The UAH Archives, Special Collections, and Digital Initiatives collects, organizes, preserves, and makes accessible materials of enduring value that support the research strengths of the university. The unit also works collaboratively with students, staff and faculty to support the creation of, access to, and preservation of digital scholarship.The unit seeks to play a role in the broader research community by building collections in areas not well covered by other repositories. Consequently, Archives, Special Collections, and Digital Initiatives draws visiting scholars to the campus, builds digital communities to engage and educate the public, and enhances the overall reputation of UAH as a center for research and scholarship.

The English graduate degree program prepares recent graduates and working professionals for careers in research, professional writing, editing, and secondary and higher education. The program’s diverse courses in literature and writing afford students broad cultural learning, dynamic research instruction, and job-transferable writing and media-editing skills. Students also have the opportunity to earn a Technical Writing Certificate that gives students credentials to pursue writing and editing jobs in a variety of industries in Huntsville’s technology and defense communities and beyond.

Article by: Nicole McDavid, CAHS Career & Internship Coordinator