What is your next adventure?
This summer, I have an internship with SpaceX in Texas and it's still on. I'll be doing stage testing for the Falcon 9. It's an opportunity that I negotiated through the Georgia Tech Mentor Jackets program - an AE grad is head of the program. Then, at the end of the summer I'll return to Tech with a GRA [graduate research assistantship] with the GTRI Air National Guard Program in flight test engineering. I should be graduating with my master's by May of 2021 and, from there, as a member of the Air Force ROTC, I will start pilot training in Shepherd Air Force Base in Texas in the European NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program - that's a premier school for fighters and bombers.
What about your next adventure are you most looking forward to?
That's hard to choose. I thinking getting to broaden my engineering experience of the planes I'll be flying - F-15s and F-16s - by working on sensor suites for them will be great.
Did you have any previous co-op, internship, or research experience in this area?
That has been quite a journey. I started doing research in the Ben T. Zinn Combustion Lab sophomore year. I really didn't know what research was but I did know, at the time, that I was going around telling everyone who'd listen that I wanted to become an astronaut. I knew that rockets blow up, and that that involved combustion, so I listened to everything they said. I worked there for my sophomore and junior years, learning by doing. The summer before my senior year, I got an internship at NASA Ames, working on the Orion heat shield. My principle job was squishing the 'bugs' that their computer program kept running into. It was a great internship, and I learned a lot, but, just before I went, I had made the decision that computational fluid dynamics was not what I wanted to be doing long-term. That spring, I had started helping Professor Saleh write a textbook on aircraft performance. My work with him and our conversations has convinced me that I would be happier doing vehicle performance flight testing. So when I returned from the internship, I worked with Professor German, doing take-off models for electric aircraft and I started working with GTRI in their Advanced Warfighter Technology Division.
How did your educational experience at Georgia Tech help you to achieve your goals?
Probably the best thing about studying here is that the faculty does not try to make it easy for you. It's not about learning some equation so you can regurgitate it on a test. You are expected to go beyond knowing facts to acquiring knowledge that you can use under demanding circumstances. When the faculty slings challenges at you, they want to see how you'll react, to see if you can pull out what you know to succeed.
Outside of the classroom, Tech's ROTC program - whether you are in the Army, Navy, or Air Force -- gives you great opportunities to grow your leadership skills. They do this by giving you a lot of responsibility, by expecting the most while you are working the hardest.
What advice would you give to an underclassman who would like to follow the same path?
One of the biggest things I've learned at Tech is to never, never, never never give up. Always put forth your best effort and something will work out. I am an example of why.
My junior year, I applied to at least 100 internships and got just six interviews. It was coming to the end of the year, and I still didn't know where or if I'd be working. But I didn't give up. I kept looking for internships - March, April, even into May. It was just around finals when I got a call from a NASA recruiter I'd met at the Fall Career Fair. Someone else had fallen through, and he'd remembered me.
There's a quote that I try to live by, and it's from David Goggin: 'Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.' And every semester I've tried to pick something outside my comfort zone to live up to that goal. Whether it was ballroom dancing, flying with the Yellow Jackets Flying Club, tutoring students in calculus... something that you start out saying 'no way I can do this.' When you end up doing it, it's the best feeling in the world