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UC Law student prepares career for take-off with NASA internship

NASA may not be the first place that comes to mind when law students are scouting for potential summer employment, but that’s exactly where University of Cincinnati College of Law student Autumn Tyler worked last summer.

The third-year law student gained not only valuable legal experience at the Langley Research Center, but was also able to tour the research facilities where NASA develops advanced flight technology - and even watch as an airplane was crash-tested.

Autumn Tyler, 3L Law Student

Autumn Tyler, UC Law Student

While a first-year law student, Tyler did not have one specific path in mind for her legal career, but rather was open to exploring the possibilities. “The great thing about the way law school is structured is that it allows for a variety of opportunities to explore the field," she said.

Tyler loves to fly and has an interest in transportation and travel, so during her first year she applied for an opportunity she found with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in Washington, D.C.

While working in the agency's Office of Dispute Resolution for Acquisition, Tyler took the opportunity to interact with other interns and was struck by the wide variety of work being done within a single agency’s legal department. Encouraged by her first experience with the federal government, she decided to try working for another agency in 2019.

Like many students, Tyler has always had an interest in NASA but thought working there might be out of reach for someone without an advanced background in science. As luck would have it, last year the University of Nebraska was selected by NASA to establish the Space Law Network, and part of this program was to create new internships at NASA Research Centers across the country. Tyler jumped at the chance and was selected to be the legal intern at Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA.

“I thought maybe everyone there would have an engineering background, but most of the people I worked with were more like me; with an interest in science and space but not technology experts.”

At Langley, NASA conducts research that lays the groundwork for the launches and other operations at some of the more famous centers such as Johnson and Kennedy. The legal department there sets up the contracts between the government and corporations they partner with, works with the intellectual property that arises from the research, and deals with any human relations or ethics issues that arise. So while the scientific work being done there is out of this world, the legal work would be relatable to any government agency or large organization.

“It was an amazing opportunity,” said Tyler. “I had expected ‘space law’ went I went in, so being able to work on more practical, legal issues was great.”

Tyler worked most closely with the business law and human relations groups, reviewing contracts or prepping cases for trial. Some of the work she found most interesting dealt with contracts between the government and large companies such as Lockheed Martin. After her experience at NASA, she remains interested in working for the government, and thinks of contract law as a possible course of future study.

“It’s possible that, somewhere down the line, I could end up back there- which would be awesome!" said Tyler.

Featured image at top: Autumn Tyler at NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia. Photo/Autumn Tyler