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Mancos High School graduate interns at NASA

Internship inspires CU Denver student to pursue medical field
Aimee Johnson worked at NASA during her 12-week internship this summer.

Aimee Johnson, who graduated from Mancos High School in 2012, spent this summer interning for NASA.

Johnson was one of 10 college students chosen for the program’s nationwide search.

The internship helped Johnson, 23, choose a major at CU Denver, something she had been struggling with.

“I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I just kind of chose a major out of the blue,” Johnson said. “I was really interested in the medical field, and I eventually became a part of a student organization called the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, which is one of the student organizations at CU Denver.”

Through the organization, Johnson met Josh Alwood, a NASA employee in the bio-sciences department. He encouraged her to apply for the internship.

“It was a pretty unique opportunity and pretty amazing overall,” Johnson said. “I got so much exposure to not only science but applications to human life both on Earth and in space as well.”

During her 12 weeks at the NASA Ames Research Center in San Jose, California, Johnson has worked on experiments regarding the mechanical overload of gravity on the skeletal system.

Test rats were spun in a spacelike gravity environment for 90 days to observe how their bones changed and adapted over time.

“I had never worked on my own individual research project like that before, so that was definitely a new experience for me,” Johnson said. “I had a lot of individuality on this project and called my own shots and what I wanted to do with the rats and what kind of time points I wanted to get with it.”

The experience helped Johnson decide on a major and career path that she hopes will take her back to Southwest Colorado or the Navajo reservation.

“I finally declared a major, and it is a bachelor’s of science in public health, and I will be graduating this spring, and I will be taking the MCAT and applying to medical and PA schools,” Johnson said.

Johnson said she hopes other young Native Americans can look to her experiences and know that it is OK to branch out and pursue opportunities.

“I have been offered all these different opportunities, and I know a lot of people don’t get the same exposure or chance to take up these opportunities,” Johnson said.

“You can branch out and stick to your cultural beliefs and rituals and take these opportunities and make a better life for yourself.”