What is your next adventure?
Immediately after graduation, I will go on a trip to Italy with my wife and my mother. In August I will begin my job as a guidance and control engineer within the Control Analysis Group at JPL.
What about your next adventure are you most looking forward to?
The most important thing is spending more time with my family...and traveling. I didn't have as much time for either when I was in graduate school, so taking some time to travel with my family, now, while I am young, is great. As far as my job goes, I am looking forward to taking what I know and putting it to the test. All of the knowledge I've accumulated after eight years of study -- based on the internships -- it looks good. But now that I will be the one in charge - not the grad student intern -- and I can't wait to meet that challenge.
Did you have any previous co-op, internship, or research experience in this area?
I came to Tech as a foreign national, from Costa Rica. Internships would be very hard, maybe impossible for me, so, from the start - from day zero minus one - I capitalized on what I could do: research. I emailed professors before I got here. I ended up working a lot in the combustion lab for the first five years I was here, going from project to project. I even worked on the Prox-1 satellite. There was a lot of trial and error. I learned that the first time you try to build something you will not necessarily be successful. In fact, usually there will be errors that you need to correct. That's where you learn. With academic maturity came more engineering savvy, and I began to see more of what I wanted to do. By the time I started my master's program, I knew I wanted to work on dynamics and control. When Dr. Tsiotras asked me if I liked math, I knew I'd found the right advisor. He wants to succeed and the only way that would happen is if I liked math. He was working on dual quaternions, a pose presentation tool that allows for really beautiful math results in spacecraft controls. It captivated me to see such a clear link between math and engineering.
At some point, I got married, and that opened up my internship possibilities. I did three internships at JPL focusing on dynamic modeling in controls.
How did your educational experience at Georgia Tech help you to achieve your goal?
The answer is obvious: Georgia Tech got me to the place where I am. The professors are able to identify students who work hard and they take special care to promote them. Five years ago, I probably wouldn't have been noticed by JPL. But Prof. Braun pinpointed my skills and accomplishments to get me an interview at JPL. And as I interned at JPL, my advisor also got grants to work there, so we were able to collaborate in the summer. The more I worked in the labs at Tech, the more potential there was for other collaborations, outside labs. JPL took an interest in me because of the work I'd already done.
What advice would you give to an underclassman who would like to follow the same path?
The steps I've taken have very clearly been successful in landing me a dream job. But there's always room to improve. I wish I'd taken more computer science courses, more ECE courses. Still, you will learn a lot from being part of a research collaboration. An aerospace engineer is not just someone who builds something that flies. It's someone who knows how to build something that works well. To make that happen, you need to work with electrical engineers, industrial engineers, computer scientists...it's a lesson that is emphasized in Senior Design - you need to work as a team -- but it's easy to lose perspective if you are only taking aerospace-specific classes. And the concepts we learn in these classes are not just for AE. You can apply concepts in control theory to other areas. IT's a mathematics-based framework that can be applied to any field.