Where are you from?
My hometown is Kaukauna, WI., which is a small town just 20 minutes from Lambeau Field in Green Bay. So yes, I am a Green Bay Packer fan!
Describe the first time you made a connection with outer space.
Since I was 10 years old, I knew I wanted to be an aerospace engineer. The movie October Sky and the story of Homer Hickam deeply inspired my life ambition. It was a defining moment in my life when the mindset of "aerospace or bust" was instilled in me. The ability to reach space and explore the unknown moved me, and I was captivated by Homer's devotion. His success while overcoming difficulties showed me I too could do it. I strove for merit in my academic life earning honor roll placements in middle school, high school and college. I found it crucial to continue with the Boy Scouts of America and achieve the rank of Eagle Scout. I knew building a foundation of academic honors and leadership experience would put me at an advantage as I pursued my ultimate goal of designing space vehicles.
When you encounter difficulties or failures, do not take no for an answer. If you truly want to accomplish something and are passionate about it, you need to believe in yourself, put your mind to it, and you can accomplish anything!
How did you end up working in the space program?
I did my undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, where I obtained my Bachelor's in Mechanical Engineering in December of 2013. I worked at Woodward, Inc. in Rockford, IL, over the course of four summers as an intern working on fuel controls for jet turbine engines until I finally earned an internship with NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA, in Fall 2012 after three years and 150+ applications. Feeling that actually working for NASA full-time was in reach, I knew I needed a bit more on my resume, so I then went on to Georgia Tech to obtain my Master's in Aerospace Engineering in May of 2015.
In my final semester at Georgia Tech I flew out to California for the third round of interviews with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, known to many as just JPL, where they informed me after the interview that I did not possess the experience the particular position I interviewed for required. Being rejected did not stop me. I took a chance, a huge risk, and I graduated without a job and took a 10-week internship with NASA-JPL. My goal was to prove to them in 10 weeks that they could not survive without me. And I WAS SUCCESSFUL!
Now I currently work as a Systems Engineer at JPL in Pasadena, CA, working in Project Formulation. I work in the Advanced Design Engineering group working on advanced mission concept studies. I also spend some of my free time engaging in public outreach where I write to students, present to children and give guided tours of NASA-JPL.
I am also an Eagle Scout! My Eagle Scout project was building a 30-foot brick patio walkway to a 30-foot diameter brick patio with a fire pit in the center for a handicapped hunting facility known as Joe's Lodge in Black Creek, WI.
Who inspired you?
Homer Hickam Jr. -- Former NASA engineer and published author most famously known for Rocket Boys, which is the basis for the movie October Sky. If you have not seen the movie October Sky and read the book Rocket Boys, I HIGHLY recommend you do so!
What does your job entail?
I am a Systems Engineer on the Europa Lander team and also on Team X and Team Xc. For the Europa Lander I am on the Flight Systems Engineering team where we make sure that all elements of the design are covered and integrated properly.
A large part of this particular job is making sure everyone is working with the same information and communication is occurring effectively. For Team X and Team Xc, which are both rapid design concurrent engineering teams, I am a Systems Engineer, integrating all the aspects of the design and managing the top level requirements like mass, power and cost. In these design studies, that are multiple three-hour sessions, I ensure that the design comes together and we create a feasible spacecraft at the end. Part of this process is ensuring the tools and models that everyone in the room is using are integrated and working correctly, as well as being informed on all aspects of the design so that when decisions come up of what design change to go with, I am able to make the right decisions that will ultimately impact the rest of the design.
What are you looking forward to in your career?
I always want to be working on the state-of-the-art mission concepts, exploring the unknown, answering questions that we do not know the answers to. I look forward to when my work returns to give us the answers that we did not initially have: when a lander lands, works and collects science to help us learn about bodies in the solar system; when a spacecraft is finally built and launched after years of design and seeing it on paper. To truly see the physical spacecraft at the end is going to be amazing.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to take the same career path as you?
Start early and stay dedicated. I knew what I wanted to do at a young age, so I made efforts to get myself into advanced classes to get ahead by taking summer courses to increase my knowledge. Make the sacrifices early so that you can enjoy them later; it's worth it if you think about the future! I also participated in community service via the Boy Scouts and other organizations to gain respect, good work ethic and connections in my community which help boost me to get scholarships. In high school, take as many STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) courses as possible, but also work in communications courses because being able to talk about and present your work effectively is crucial. For college I recommend taking either an engineering or a physics degree route and looking for schools that are currently working with NASA such as Georgia Tech, MIT and CalTech, just to name a few. I felt that I needed to go on to Georgia Tech because my undergraduate school of Platteville was small and did not have any workings or history with NASA.
When you encounter difficulties or failures, do not take no for an answer. If you truly want to accomplish something and are passionate about it, you need to believe in yourself, put your mind to it, and you can accomplish anything! I failed A LOT, but I NEVER GAVE UP. It took three years and over 150 applications to NASA before I received my first internship with NASA Langley in Virginia in 2012 (online applications, emails, letters in the mail). Georgia Tech denied my application to graduate school initially. After three weeks of communication with the Dean of Admissions, he created a spot for me and let me in. A week after that I received a Graduate Research Assistantship from reaching out to professors asking if I could have one, where they paid for my school and then PAID ME to do research. JPL interviewed me in my last semester in grad school and did not give me a full-time job. I graduated without a job and took a 10-week internship to prove to them I belong. Now I am a FULL-TIME NASA ENGINEER!
Give me an opportunity, I'll take it.
Give me a challenge, I'll beat it.
Give me an obstacle, I'll overcome it.
Give me the chance, I'll succeed.
Change The World!
What do you do for fun?
I am a certified personal trainer who enjoys all things health and fitness related. Whether I'm in the gym lifting weights, out in the mountains hiking, or on the beach surfing and relaxing, I'm always keeping fit and sharing my knowledge and experiences with others through my social media platforms and personal training website. When the time calls for it, after long days of work and exercise, I like to kick back and relax with some Netflix or go to see a movie, and fitting in some Oreos and Skittles now and then. :)