Carnegie Mellon University

Emily Sespico

August 31, 2021

Internship Spotlight: Emily Sespico

By Bill Brink

Ever since Emily Sespico understood the concept of space, she wanted to work for NASA. Her father was a planetary science teacher, and she used to stargaze through the telescopes that filled their home. 

As Sespico got older, her interest in the policy side of space grew. This summer, Sespico, a senior Astrophysics major with an additional major in International Relations and Politics, married the two with an internship in NASA’s Office of International and Interagency Relations. 

“I am loving every single thing about this,” she said.

Carnegie Mellon was Sespico’s dream school since she was seven, when she accompanied her father to the summer programs for talented and gifted students that he taught on campus, passing out pipe cleaners that the students turned into aliens. She gravitated toward classes in the Institute for Politics and Strategy for her electives, including Theories of International Relations with Dr. Molly Dunigan.

“I appreciated her willingness to help and answer questions through office hours, and I just really, really enjoyed the class because it’s not something that I had been introduced to before or studied on my own,” Sespico said. “It solidified to me that I wanted to do something in international relations and not just domestic policy. On top of that, Space and National Security with Dr. Forrest Morgan definitely pointed me in the direction that I am right now.”

In the fall of 2019, when Sespico was unsure of what she wanted to do next, a friend convinced her to consider the Carnegie Mellon University Washington Semester Program. She’d missed the application deadline, but IPS Deputy Director Emily Half encouraged her to apply, and she went in the spring of 2020. She was the only undergraduate intern that spring at Foreign Policy for America, a nonpartisan advocacy organization supporting diplomacy and American foreign engagement.

“I felt a little bit unprepared,” Sespico said. “It helped me realize that I wasn’t unprepared and that the classes I had taken really did prepare me, and the rigor of CMU also helped prepare me for the real world.”

The internship opened her eyes to the possibilities in Washington, DC. FP4A’s annual conference took place a week after she started, and she shook Susan Rice’s hand and heard senators speak from the front row. That summer, she interned on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

“I loved learning about space science and technology policy and energy policy, but I really missed the international aspect because the science committee focuses on domestic policy,” Sespico said. “It solidified for me something that I thought I knew for a while, that I didn’t want to do either of them individually. I wanted to do them together.”

Before this summer, Sespico submitted a general internship application to NASA, then had a small freakout when, only after hitting send, did she see listings for individual positions, including one in OIIR. A couple of weeks later she got a LinkedIn notification: Someone from OIIR had viewed her profile. Now she attends meetings with NASA policy experts and engineers; she sits in on conversations between NASA, DLR, and CNES, the German and French space agencies, and she drafts diplomatic overflight authorization requests and translates them into French, which she has studied for six years.

After graduating in December, Sespico wants to work in international space diplomacy, possibly for the United Nations. For now, she’s living what she envisioned so many years ago.

“This,” she said, “honestly is the dream.”