From working on small satellites to traveling abroad – to flying in microgravity or designing, building and flying an aircraft – our Texas aerospace engineers leave the Forty Acres with the kind of real-world experience that prepares them to take on the world. 

Here we share just a few examples of our graduating student successes. Please help us congratulate the Class of 2016.

Ashleigh Caison

Hometown: Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Degree: B.S. Aerospace Engineering

Ashliegh Caison in mission control
Ashleigh Caison poses at a flight director station.

Were you involved with ASE/EM student organizations/projects? If so, please describe your experience and how it has shaped your education.

I have been involved with Women in Aerospace for Leadership and Development (WIALD) for all four years I have been a UT student. I was a team lead my freshman year and have been an officer since sophomore year. I was the president for WIALD this year. WIALD has given me opportunities that I’d never dreamed of. My sophomore year, I got to fly on NASA’s migrogravity airplane as part of an experiment we did on the thermal properties of a material called Vectran. I’ve been able to work on high altitude balloon payloads, drones, and rovers, all while gaining leadership experience and meeting other amazing women in aerospace. WIALD allowed me to apply a lot of the things I was doing and learning in my classes, but in a fun, hands-on way.

I also work in the Texas Spacecraft Lab (TSL) and have been able to work on multiple spacecraft during my time here. I helped deliver Bevo-2 to NASA, and got to go to the Cape to try and see it launch (but unfortunately did not due to it scrubbing!). I was also able to go to NASA to watch Bevo-2 and AggieSat4 launch from the International Space Station. I am one of two team members currently doing hardware integration of the ARMADILLO spacecraft, which will launch on the second Falcon Heavy next year. Getting to have my hands on flight hardware as an undergraduate student is an experience that not many people get to have, and it has given me a greater appreciation for integration, test, and operations.

What is your favorite memory spent as a student in UT Aerospace?

One of my favorite memories as a UT Austin aerospace student has been working on the Vomit Comet project with WIALD. While it was absolutely a difficult project, we really pulled through in the end and were able to fly our experiment. As one of our officers at the time said, we truly lived the phrase “Failure is not an option.” It was such a collaborative effort to get to the final flight, and I learned more about being a good engineer in that project than from anything else I’ve ever worked on.

How has your education prepared you for the workforce?

My education has given me the tools I will need to be successful in the workforce. Most importantly, I have “learned how to learn.” I have figured out how things work from tackling the project with my bare hands, in addition to attending lectures and labs. I have learned a lot of theory over the past four years, but I’ve also learned how to be a productive learner and engineer.

What do you hope to accomplish in the future?

I hope to be part of the effort to send people (or robots!) into space, to explore more about our universe. I will be working for Boeing, supporting integration of Space Launch Systems after graduation, which is directly relevant to this goal. 

Patil Tabanian

Hometown: Plano, Texas
Degree: B.S. Aerospace Engineering 

Patil Tabanian in microgravity
Patil Tabanian aboard NASA's microgravity aircraft.

Tell us about some of your fellowships, awards, co-ops, etc. since you’ve attended UT.

I won the Champion Award in my sophomore year. The award recognizes students serving as leaders and agents within their organizations and champions of the mission of Women in Engineering Program (WEP) to recruit and retain women in engineering. The award was presented to me at a banquet and it just so happened that a representative from Boeing was also there.

This Boeing representative ended up being my manager that summer when I worked in Huntsville, AL as a propulsion engineer for the Space Launch System Program. I returned for a second summer, except this time I joined the Research & Technology division of the company as a materials & science engineer on the commercial program where I performed metallurgical analysis on developmental titanium. As a senior, I attended the same banquet and was awarded the Excellence Award. This award recognizes academic excellence, involvement in WEP initiatives, leadership, mentorship and volunteer experiences.

Were you involved with ASE/EM student organizations/projects? If so, please describe your experience and how it has shaped your education.

I joined the Women in Aerospace for Leadership and Development (WIALD) organization my freshman year as a team lead for the project and also as an officer. It was an amazing experience and a great introduction to what aerospace engineering is like, especially since all of my classes were basic math and science courses. To be honest, though, I still wasn’t sure if I was in the right major until midway through my sophomore year. The people in WIALD and the projects that came with the organization were the driving factor in why I stayed and eventually came to the conclusion that I belong here.

My second year, I was the treasurer for our microgravity project that won NASA’s national Microgravity Flight Education Competition. This project helped me understand the life cycle of a project – from the design and analysis to winning a contract with the customer to building the design and testing and evaluating to implementing and then to learning lessons, all while doing constant budgeting, social media and outreach. From all these responsibilities, I gained more confidence in my ability to succeed as an engineer and also recognized how my core classes contribute toward my degree. Then, at the end of the year, I had the amazing experience of actually flying in microgravity, until I was the only person on my team (and the flight group) to actually vomit in the “vomit comet.” In the end, I learned a lot about working in teams and professional writing and presentation.

I worked my way up to being president my junior year. After being exposed to an industry work-style, I decided to change the structure of the organization so that the president and vice president acted more as managers than technical leads. I had such a huge learning curve from my sophomore year that I wanted to give the same opportunity to WIALD’s members. I also focused the organization more on recruitment and retention so that the majority of the organization was composed of freshmen and sophomores. It was so exciting to serve as a mentor and witness their change in confidence, professionalism, communication and engineering skills.

I didn’t get involved with the organization during my senior year because of my senior design course. I act as a mentor and friend to the organization and its members. Looking back, I definitely would not be the strong, confident starting engineer I am now without the organization. It nourished me into believing in myself and gaining friendships that will last a lifetime. It also helped me learn to time manage myself and it prepared me for my hands-on aircraft senior design course. 

What is your favorite memory spent as a student in UT Aerospace?

My favorite memory spent as a student in UT Aerospace was when we got a call from NASA informing us that we won the NASA microgravity competition and that we could fly in microgravity with our experiment. I remember the NASA representative told us they wanted to inform us of the great news first out of all of the teams because that’s how impressed they were with our proposal. This was during the winter break, so all of the WIALD officers were just screaming with excitement on the phone together in our homes. Immediately after we hung up, I went straight to my stereo and danced to Disney tunes until I was able to calm down from excitement!

How has your education prepared you for the workforce?

My aircraft senior design course has best prepared me for the workforce because of its hands-on, real world application. The course is split up into two teams, competing for a contract with a potential customer. In the first semester, four teams design and down-select toward their team’s aircraft to best perform the mission. At the end of the semester, the two best teams are chosen based on their performance, documentation and products that best fit the mission. Teams spend the second semester building, testing and implementing the programs and products. At the end of this semester, the best team wins the contract with the customer. This has been a very realistic introduction to the workforce and has greatly helped me prepare my expectations and idea of how programs are run in the real-world.

What do you hope to accomplish in the future?

I hope to be as influencing in the workforce as I am in this department. Being a product of STEM outreach, I want to work my way up in management and serve as a stronger STEM role model to give back. I also want to be a part of a project that is one of the next generation’s ground breaking moments – like taking the first group of humans to Mars.

Ruifei Wang

Hometown: Round Rock, Texas
Degrees: B.S. Aerospace Engineering, B.S. Biochemistry 

Ruifei Wang working abroad
Ruifei Wang working abroad in Nicaragua.

Tell us a about some of your fellowships, awards, co-ops, etc. since you’ve attended UT.

I worked at the NASA Ames Research Center as an intern. I did physical chemistry research with Dr. Lauren Webb and our group published a paper on the project I was working on. I also spent five years in Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. The highest award I earned in ROTC was the 2014 Commissioning Award, which was given to the top AFROTC cadet in the nation studying in a technical field. I went abroad three times with Global Public Health Brigades traveling to Nicaragua and Honduras. We worked for a few weeks in rural communities to improve their sanitation infrastructure and education.

Were you involved with ASE/EM student organizations/projects? If so, please describe your experience and how it has shaped your education. 

I worked in the Design, Build, Fly (DBF) lab during my freshman year and the Texas Spacecraft Lab (TSL) for a semester during my sophomore year. I got hands-on experience in some basic aircraft design in DBF and I learned some coding in TSL. Informally, I worked on some material science research with Dr. Andrew Drach and Dr. Gregory Rodin. Altogether, these experiences gave me perspective on the engineering design and evaluation process. They motivated me more to do well in my classes because I was able to apply classroom knowledge directly to some of those projects. Non-ASE related note: I was in Engineering Chamber Orchestra for a year where I played guitar.

What is your favorite memory spent as a student in UT Aerospace?

Dr. Fowler’s senior design project class - my team was amazing. Our project was High-Altitude Recycler of Valuable Expired Spacecraft maTERial (HARVESTER). We met a few times a week (it took us a while to come up with the name, but hey that’s important!) and at the end of the semester, we had an opportunity to present to the ASE External Advisory Committee and NASA JPL.

How has your education prepared you for the workforce?

My education prepared me by giving me the tools to ask to the right questions and find solutions to them. I also feel very comfortable working with people from different backgrounds and disciplines. 

What do you hope to accomplish in the future?

I will be attending Baylor College of Medicine to earn my MD. Then I will practice medicine in the Air Force. Beyond that, I don't know yet. 

Wang was also selected to receive the Spring 2016 Cockrell School of Engineering Outstanding Scholar/Leader Award.

spring 2016 graduation group photo

Spring 2016 Commencement Photos

Photos from the ASE/EM Graduation Reception and Commencement are now available online.

View photos >>