What is your next adventure?
I will be joining SpaceX in Hawthorne, California as a life support systems engineer on the Starship program. My team will be supporting people on board Starship by providing water, breathable air, regulating temperature inside the capsule, basically everything you need to keep people alive is what my team does.
What about your next adventure are you most looking forward to?
I’m really excited to be in the SpaceX environment and joining a really, really new team. We are in the early stages of development so there’s a lot of opportunity to take ownership of the hardware and hands on testing. I recently got to visit the lab and they are doing a lot of cool testing and starting to develop the hardware. I think it’s really cool to be in a team sort of at the beginning of that process and get the chance to work on rapid design and things like that.
Did you have any previous co-op, internship, or research experience in this area?
I’ve had a few internships over the years to figure out what I actually like to do. I got to work at NASA Kennedy on grounds systems engineering and later made my way over to Blue Origin, where I interned twice; the first time as a crew systems intern and the second as a New Glenn mechanical systems intern.
As a crew systems intern, I worked on New Shepherd, which needs to support humans for short duration flights. We had to determine things like, how do you keep people safe? how do you keep them comfortable? What material should the seats be made out of? So, I got to learn a little about how to design lift support systems. I specifically worked on thermal modeling for that system, so say there’s a hold on the launch pad, how hot is it going to be for those sitting in the system?
I discovered that I really like thinking through those types of problems. I was so excited to go to work every day, being able to see the different interdisciplinary problems and working towards a solution was all very rewarding.
My research in the Space Systems Design Lab (SSDL) has been focused on small sat research, including both cold-gas and green monopropellant thruster systems. It’s not exactly the same area that I will be working on at SpaceX, but it does have a lot of the same kind of problems like, understanding how heat moves through the system. We need to understand how to do mechanical design of a fluid system, which is on a very technical level. Fluid systems are everywhere, so you can apply that to the propulsions system as well as areas that will house humans in space.
How did your educational experience at Georgia Tech help you to achieve your goals?
A number of the classes that I took at Georgia Tech were applicable to what I will be doing in my new job, especially the options courses that I chose to take. The flexibility in the master’s program to choose classes really helped as well. I knew I wanted to get good at heat transfer since that’s a really important part of life support and space systems in general. I was able to deliberately pick undergrad options and grad courses that exposed me to that. There are a lot of opportunities to take classes that align with what may interest you and skills that the industry needs.
I’ve been doing research in the Space Systems Design Lab (SSDL) with Dr. Lightsey since my third year of undergrad and it’s been hands down, the most valuable experience. I got the chance to learn from AE graduate students when I was an undergrad, work directly on hardware, and now I lead a team of propulsion engineers and teach undergrads as a graduate research assistant.
I have learned an enormous amount in the lab and I think it’s turned me into a much more competent engineer than I would have been otherwise, because I am responsible for making sure that hardware get out the door and making sure that design gets done and is done well.
What advice would you give to an underclassman who would like to follow the same path?
Take advantage of every opportunity you can, as early as you can. It’s never too early to do your first internship, start doing research, or join one of the project-based student organizations on campus. It’s never too early to get real hands-on or industry experience because the sooner you do that, the more you can build your resume and have a better chance of choosing where you want to go in the future. Georgia Tech will give you so many opportunities just because you’re a student here and as an aerospace engineering student it will get your foot in the door a lot of the time. The first internship I did was not what I ultimately wanted to do with my career, but it was a real experience and helped get to where I am today.
Instead of comparing and competing with your classmates, reframe your mindset to see them as resources. As an undergrad it can be really intimidating and easy to compare yourself to other people especially when you fail a test or don’t get an internship. Instead, ask for help, or form a study group and if you have a friend who has done five internships, ask them to review your resume ask for their advice. As someone who has gotten through the program successfully, I am so grateful for the people who I have worked with throughout the program, and they have been such a huge part of me being successful. Some of my best friends now are people that I met in the program just because we studied together every night and we’d read each other’s resumes and help prep for interviews and I think it’s such a big advantage.