Shyamal “Sam” Patel is a junior in the Aerospace Engineering program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Daytona Beach campus, specializing in Astronautics. In addition to his major course of study, Sam is minoring in Mathematics, Space Studies, Aerospace Life Sciences, and Homeland Security. Sam has completed internships/co-ops with five companies: Northrop Grumman, NASA Kennedy Space Center, The Boeing Company, Masten Space Systems, and most recently with SpaceX. While he finishes his degree, Sam is working on side projects and consulting on his previous project with SpaceX. He is also a Private Pilot and Emergency Medical Technician.
How did you land your co-ops/internships, and how did you navigate the process?
During my sophomore year, I went to the Career Expo and spoke with the SpaceX representatives and learned more about the company. Later that day they had an informational talk in which they discussed more about internships. I learned from the presentation that the most important aspect when considering an intern for SpaceX is their hands-on experience. I used this bit of information the following year during the Career Expo, focusing on my hands-on experience while speaking to SpaceX representatives. I obtained my practical experience from previous internships and university organizations. During my Masten Space Systems and NASA internships, I gained valuable hands-on experience with fluid systems. Organizations like ERFSEDS and Society for S.P.A.C.E. provided me with additional practical experience with high powered rocketry and working in teams. They were impressed with this experience and called me out to their Cape Canaveral launch pad for an interview. During this interview, I again used my hands-on experience to influence and guide the interview. Within five minutes of leaving the interview, I was called and told that I had landed a co-op for the spring and summer of 2012. My recommendation to students is to really listen to what employers want in an intern and focus on those aspects heavily when talking to representatives and during the interview phase.
What opportunities are available for students at SpaceX?
There are many opportunities available for students at SpaceX. One of the benefits is that there are opportunities in different locations: Cape Canaveral, FL; McGregor, TX; Vandenberg, CA; Hawthorne CA. I interned at the launch site in Cape Canaveral. There, students get to work with the launch operations group, which involves final vehicle integration and launch/mission execution. The Texas facility is primarily focused on testing the various propulsion systems of the Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft. Most of the opportunities for students are located at headquarters in Hawthorne, CA. In Hawthorne, students get the opportunity to work with all of the groups, including: Avionics, Dynamics, Launch Operations, Manufacturing, Propulsion, and Structures.
What advice would you give students who are contemplating doing an internship experience?
Students who are contemplating doing an internship should know that internships are incredible experiences. An internship is your chance to finally see what your field has to offer. I personally believe that I have learned more practical knowledge during my internships than I have in the classroom. Sure, the classroom teaches you the basics, but the basics do not do you any good if you do not know how to use them. Internships are there to fill the gap between theory and seeing it in action.
When I received my offer from SpaceX, I was given a spring and summer co-op. That meant that I had to skip the spring semester and push back graduation. At first, I was on the fence about accepting the co-op because of this push back. I realized that graduating one semester later would be worth the co-op experience. I learned firsthand that the experience you gain far outweighs any cost, even if that means graduating later than expected.
In what ways has your co-op experience impacted your college experience?
My college experience has been greatly impacted as a result of my co-op. My co-op has bridged the gap between what I have been learning in the classroom and how to use such knowledge in industry. During my co-op, I learned many concepts that are just now coming up in my classes. This has made my classes easier because I am already familiar with some of the topics, and it is easier now to follow along. With this comes a new perspective about classes. I now look at the small topics taught in class and try to find out ways in which they can help me when I return to SpaceX.