What is your next adventure?
I’ll be starting as a mechanical engineer working in large deployable space structures at JPL [Jet Propulsion Laboratory] in September. Over the summer I’m going to hike the John Muir Trail – 180 miles – for three weeks. Hopefully, I’ll be able to start my master’s through the Distance Learning program sometime next year. I’ve already earned nine credits toward my master’s degree.
Did you have any previous co-op, internship, or research experience in this area?
My first internship – in 2014 - was at Johnson Space Center where I was an advanced counter measures intern. That’s a fancy term that means I designed prototype exercise devices for use in space. The problem they are facing is that regular equipment weighs a lot takes up a lot of room. To save on fuel and space, they need to order-of-magnitude smaller. I did two back-to-back rotations [7 months] at JPL, which was the best decision I ever made. That’s when I worked on Starshade – a large deployable sunflower that flies with a telescope that allows you to image earth-like planets and other solar systems directly. I went back there, again, last summer.
Research-wise, I got a PURA grant to work with Dr. Rimoli on Tensegrity. I also worked with Dr. Spencer as the project manager for the Prox-1 [cubesat] mission, and I presented a paper at the 2016 AIAA small sat conference. My paper was chosen for publication as a part of the proceedings of that conference.
What about your next adventure are you most looking forward to?
I’m really excited to do a deep dive into big projects – contributing to what’s out there while I continue to explore. At Tech, as a student, you get spread out across different projects and classes, so it’s hard to get depth. At JPL, I want to become a cognizant engineer for a project, which means I would be responsible for making a certain part of a system workable. To do that, I will need to get trained in JPL’s procedures and practices. I can hardly wait.
How did your educational experience at Georgia Tech help you to achieve your goal?
Tech gave me every opportunity I could ever have wanted to get ahead. And there were always people here to guide me along the path once I chose it.
For instance, I couldn’t find an internship freshman year, so I signed up to do a semester at GT-Lorraine and I got ahead on my classes. When I had questions about how my career should go, I had a long talk with Dr. Spencer. Dr. Feigh talked to me about how to work and travel. I also talked to Dr. Pritchett, Dr. Rimoli, and my advisor, Dr. Walker. There was always someone willing to help me.
What advice would you give to an underclassman who would like to follow the same path?
I didn’t realize this until late in my college career, but it’s worth sharing: Don’t assume something is impossible until you ask about it. At Tech, I got a job at OIT [Office of Information Technology] and I didn’t know how to code. They hired me because I was interested and I seemed smart enough to learn. With the paper I published: that would never have happened unless I’d asked about it. And at JPL, the majority of the work I get done when I ask for advice from my colleagues. That’s how you learn.