Like modern-day explorers out to discover the New World, four engineering students recently traveled to Washington, D.C., in search of the next big thing. For these freshmen in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, the answer is the resurgence of NASA’s aerospace program.
Through the Honors College’s annual Freshman Ventures program, the students were among several teams. Each team tackled the question by setting up interviews with a variety of individuals and groups that could help them find deeper answers. The students organized everything from travel and lodging to contacting individuals with whom they interviewed.
After seeing a presentation of previous Ventures trips, Dillon Hall of Saltillo became interested in using this opportunity to explore his interests in pursuing a career in the aerospace industry. The mechanical engineering major formed a group with Reid Barber of Tupelo, Raymond Brown of Houston, Texas, and Seth Gray of Jonesboro, Arkansas.
The foursome met with both NASA representatives and individuals that held opposing views in an effort to have a more well-rounded research project.
“We had the opportunity to interview Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Directorate at NASA Headquarters, and Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight development,” Hall said. “We realize that the opportunity to interact with people like this as first-year students is almost unheard of at other universities.”
Each Ventures group is also required to prepare a visual presentation of their interviews and findings to show during a retreat later in the spring where all groups discuss their travel experiences. Each team’s presentation will be judged by Honors faculty and staff. The group with the best overall presentation is awarded a trip to New York City.
Before they were allowed to travel, the students were required to develop a plan for their time in Washington and what they hoped to achieve through their experience with the NASA representatives. “The goal of our Ventures project was to learn about what NASA has planned for the immediate and long-term future in regards to technological development and space exploration,” said Barber, a computer science major. “We also wanted to learn more about NASA’s funding and special procedures, being part of the federal administration.”
Barber also expressed the group’s interest in learning about NASA’s relationship with other private companies, such as SpaceX, and how or if they collaborate. The experience allowed the students to gain skills that they believe will benefit them beyond graduation whether or not they choose a career in the aerospace field.
“I learned that the future of space exploration strongly depends on future engineers,” said Gray, a chemical engineering major. “Even though NASA has a stronghold on the space industry, it will be necessary for more companies to develop new ideas.”
Gray, who served as the group’s financial planner, said the opportunity to visit NASA allowed him to get a sense of potential career opportunities for engineers with the organization.
Brown, who was responsible for documenting the group’s activities in the nation’s capital, said the experience helped him better identify his future goals in the business world.
“While I am not planning to pursue a job in the space industry, I feel like the Ventures trip opened my eyes to the diversity of jobs in our economy,” the mechanical engineering major said. “My horizons are broadened about what entrepreneurs can do if they work hard enough. All in all, I was able to get a better sense of where private industry is headed in the next few decades.”
The Honors College strives to develop citizen scholars who are fired by the life of the mind. Giving students new to a university campus the chance to embark on a nontraditional learning experience allows them to do just that.
Courtesy of Ole Miss News Desk and School of Engineering, written by Ryan Upshaw