Jaleel Hill has spent his summer studying the preservation of space suits and working on space exhibits at the Smithsonian, despite a childhood largely absent of security or direction.
A graduate of Sanderson High School, Hill is now a rising junior at Xavier University in New Orleans. He applied at the last minute for the internship with the National Air and Space Museum in the middle of finals week, after a woman in the university’s career services office told him he would be a good candidate for the position.
“I didn’t think I’d get it because it’s so competitive,” he said.
Hill moved to Raleigh for his sophomore year of high school. While growing up in Detroit, he had little drive, supervision or support, he said. His father has been incarcerated for Hill’s whole life, and his mother was largely uninvolved.
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“I pretty much raised myself,” Hill said.
Hill lived with his mother until he was 12. He then went from house to house before moving in with a distant cousin and her husband in Raleigh. There, he found financial and academic support.
“It was an academically driven household, and it was also a Marine Corps household,” he said. “It was hard to adjust to, but it was exactly what I needed at that time in my life.”
Hill turned around his academic trajectory and went from a 2.0 GPA to graduating with honors. He then left for Xavier, which he chose because of its pharmacy school.
He now gets to use what he studies as a chemistry and pre-pharmacy major in his tasks as an intern. His responsibilities include applying chemical methods to find out how to better preserve the museum’s space suit collection, assessing levels of degradation and corrosion, updating the museum’s database, and working with a curator on the development of a new exhibit.
Hill said he enjoys using what he has learned in school in real-life situations.
“It’s one thing to read it in a textbook, but I get to actually see it,” he said.
Hill views his internship experience as an opportunity not many people receive. Working full time while studying for his pharmacy school test, the PCAT, has challenged him – in a good way.
“When I leave here, I’m more confident, I’m more connected, I’m more exposed to top-tier people,” he said. “This is an opportunity of a lifetime.”