Zachary Ernst

Ph.D.A.E. 2022

What is your next adventure?

I have actually started working at the NASA Langley Research Center (Langley). I am in the vehicle analysis branch of the strategic concepts and Analysis Division.

What about your next adventure are you most looking forward to?

Being able to take what I was doing as a graduate student and apply it as a graduate researcher in the big leagues. Working on vehicle design for NASA and taking codes that I had written as a graduate student and now applying them as a researcher on huge supercomputers and things like that.

Did you have any previous co-op, internship, or research experience in this area?

I had an internship at Langley a few years ago. I was working for a different organization, but still at Langley. So, I got a feel for the atmosphere at Langley and the area around Hampton and Norfolk.

For the last two years of my degree, I was part of the Samuel L. Langley Professor Program. So, I was in Virginia working under the National Institute of Aerodynamics as part of the agreement between Langley and Georgia Tech. I came up here and started working in VAB. That was my first foray into the group that I'm actually working for now.

How did your educational experience at Georgia Tech help you to achieve your goals?

I came to Georgia Tech purely for grad school. My graduate classes were certainly up to par with the level of knowledge and skills that I needed in my career. I really credit the model of Aerospace Systems Design Lab (ASDL) for bringing in all of these different contracts and programs from NASA and industry. It was important to have the ability to work with these companies and organizations on problems of interest.  There is also more freedom then you would see in, say, a smaller lab. Also, of course, on top is the actual direct introduction to the people that I'm now working for at NASA.

What advice would you give to an underclassman who would like to follow the same path?

Get involved. Start making sure that you're planning out what you want to do with undergraduate research and internships. That's another good way of introducing yourself to these programs, both getting a feel for what they do and making yourself familiar to them.

Be aware and embed yourself in the stream of the research that's going on in an area of interest because the more that you are in tune with that, the better ability you will to navigate and contribute to that in the future.