Co-op/Internship Spotlight: Shyamal “Sam” Patel

Shyamal Patel, DB AE

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.

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Alumni Career Spotlight: Algeria “Queenie” Morse

Algeria Queen Morse

Queenie Morse, DB 2004/2012

Queenie Morse is a 2004 graduate of Embry-Riddle’s BS in Aerospace Engineering program and a 2012 graduate of the MS in Mechanical Engineering program. As a student, Queenie completed an internship as a Space Station Systems Engineer Intern with The Boeing Company at NASA Johnson Space Center. During her time as a student, she also worked for Siemens Westinghouse Power Corporation and FlightSafety International. Additionally,  Queenie attained experience before attending ERAU as a member of the United States Navy.  Upon graduation, Queenie graduated and accepted a position with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, where she worked for several years. Today, she is a Launch Vehicle Engineer with United Launch Alliance and has hopes of one day becoming an astronaut.

How did your internship with Boeing at NASA help you to identify your career focus and/or goals?

Queenie Morse and Eileen CollinsI would say that my most memorable experience at NASA was getting to work alongside astronauts.  It was a goal of mine to one day submit my own astronaut application.  I worked on a project with Eileen Collins (the first female shuttle commander) and had a chance to speak with her on a personal level.  We spoke about what the application process entailed, and she encouraged me to apply multiple times and that most astronauts apply several times before making the cut.  We even spoke about what it was like for her to juggle being an astronaut with being a wife and a mom.

In addition to Ms. Collins, astronaut Steve Robinson also gave me memorable advice.  He told me to structure a fulfilling career and a personal life for myself and let becoming an astronaut be a bonus and not a necessity.  He said that in addition to skills, the selection board looks for well-rounded and fun individuals.  In so many words, he was telling me to work hard but still have some fun and enjoy life.  After all, according to him, the astronaut candidate interview consists of only one question, “So…tell us about yourself.”  I have recalled his advice many times in the last 10 years when making career decisions.

How have the contacts and networking you did on your internship and subsequent jobs  been a benefit to you in your career as an Aerospace Engineer?

In addition to working alongside astronauts during my internship, I gainedAlgeria Queenie Morse with astronauts Steve Robinson and Soichi Noguchi valuable contacts while at NASA.  One notable contact was the mission director for 30 years (now retired) at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory.  We have kept in contact for many years since my internship ended in 2003.  He has been a great mentor and a great reference whenever I needed it.  I recently submitted my first astronaut candidate package, and he eagerly agreed to serve as a reference for me.  This will be a very valuable reference because he knows most of the people in the astronaut selection office.  I am very honored that I gained this connection during my internship at NASA.

How do you feel about students continuing their education directly after completing an undergraduate degree versus gaining experience in the field before entering into a graduate program?

I found working as a full-time engineer and simultaneously pursuing masters courses to be a challenge.  It took a lot longer for me to graduate since I traveled for work and I could only take one class at a time and sometimes no classes at all. Working in the aerospace industry and supporting launches can be very demanding (but rewarding) at times.  There are instances of heavy overtime and travel which is based on launch schedules and/or unpredictable launch delays.

If I could do it again, I would eagerly choose the 5-year bachelor/masters track and get it done all at once.  Because of work demands, it took nearly four years to complete my masters degree.  However, it was nice that my company paid for my masters education!

What are your plans for the future? 

I have now been working in the aerospace community for nearly 10 years.  As a long-time employee with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, I had the pleasure of working in Los Angeles, Florida and Europe.  I have been lucky enough to land jobs building and launching payloads and now rockets.  I recently started a new position with United Launch Alliance (ULA).  ULA builds and launches rockets.  It feels like all my hard work and studies definitely paid off.  What better jobs for an aerospace engineer than to build and launch payloads and rockets! Well, I guess that depends on if I am selected by the astronaut selection office.  I recently submitted my first astronaut application, and I am eagerly awaiting the results!

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