AT age 16, Rynola Fraser is steadily charting a path to success by becoming the first black and Jamaican woman from the Martin Van Buren High School in New York to be selected as a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) intern at New York City’s Goddard Institute of Space Study.
Fraser, who grew up in Lionel Town, Clarendon, with her grandmother and cousins, told the Jamaica Observer that her household provided the avenue that encouraged her to strive for the best.
“They always encouraged me that the sky is the limit. I went to Hope Basic School and the motto was ‘Ever Striving For Excellence’. From that age I was pushed to do my best,” Fraser said.
And so, by the time Fraser got to Glenmuir High she continued with her resilience, determination, and focus as she admits her sights were set on becoming a lawyer and she could not afford to be blindsided.
Fraser maintained this focus after emigrating to the United States at age 14 and shared that, though the transition was not difficult, it was still new and took some getting used to.
“I was travelling back and forth as a child. My mom lived in the [United] States, so I was familiar with the place and people. The school system was a bit different,” Fraser said.
Not daunted, Fraser told the Sunday Observer that she quickly pivoted and got into the rhythm of what she needed to do to excel.
“They prepped you for an exam, but not the SATs. You had to study for that independently. I had my grades up, but wondered what else could I do to stand out from other applicants. In my junior year I got placed in a class called science research with my teacher Ms Wang. We always did scientific experiment, projects on wetlands, urban heat islands – stuff like that. I was also part of a club called Scholars, which is part of the National Honours Society and Arista. It has the nation’s brightest children and your average has to be really high to be part of the club,” Fraser said.
The time to apply for the NASA internship came, but Fraser, initially, did not see the internship as something to pursue.
“The teacher, Ms Wang, singled me out and sent it to me’ and I asked her ‘why did you send it? Should I apply?’ I was hesitant because growing up I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer. That is my career of choice and I really loved it, was very interested in it and always thought what could I do to better prepare myself for my adventure into law. But I was also good at science, so Ms Wang used that point to convince me to keep my options open. She said, ‘I know you want to do law, but you’re great at science and should definitely consider doing it.’ That’s what made me apply,” Fraser said.
Out of 4,000 applicants considered for four available internship spots, Fraser was selected. In addition, 360 out of 1,000 who applied for the specific project at Goddard, that Fraser will work on, had 4.0 grade point averages.
When she received the e-mail of acceptance into the internship, Fraser said she could hardly contain her excitement at school that she rushed to Ms Wang – also a NASA intern – who reassured her that it was the right move.
“When I told Ms Wang she told me she already knew, as she is also a NASA intern, but had to wait on NASA to send the official e-mail. To see myself in this position as the first black woman from my high school to be a NASA intern is overwhelming. When I started high school here I never saw myself as being a NASA intern, but I sent the application nonetheless. I called my mom, Finola Carridice, and aunts, and everyone was extremely happy,” Fraser said.
However, Fraser said the celebrations quickly turned bittersweet as she waited until her father, Ryan Fraser, got home to share the good news, only to be told he had was in the hospital as he met in an accident on the way home.
“He would usually be home by 4:00 pm the latest and I didn’t see him. At 8:00 pm he called my grandmother and I through a WhatsApp group call to tell us he was in the hospital as he was on a bus heading home when there was a collision. I still didn’t say anything. When he got home I told him and I could see him fighting through the pain as he had whiplash. He started calling all his friends. It was a bittersweet moment,” Fraser said.
The internship will last for six weeks from July 5 to August 13. Fraser will work in a team of four with mentor Dr Dorothy Peteet, her teacher Ms Wang and an undergraduate student.
Fraser said she will be doing research and observation on factors that affect climate change as the virtual platform restricts the ability to do fieldwork.
While Fraser prepares to begin her internship, her encouragement to others is to not let opportunities pass.
“I really live by the scripture ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’. Nothing is impossible. Try everything that comes your way as you never know if it will be beneficial in life or if you will like it,” she said.