Congratulations to UT Austin’s ASE/EM Class of 2017! From constructing and launching rockets to building and flying airplanes, to making an impact with interdisciplinary research, our students have been making their mark while on the Forty Acres. Here we offer a glimpse into just a few of these student experiences – we can’t wait watch them take the world by the horns!

Alexus Cottonham

Hometown: Houston, Texas
Degree: B.S. in Aerospace Engineering
Post-graduation plans: To enter the workforce

Alexus Cottonham

Did you study abroad?

The summer after my sophomore year, I decided to study abroad in China, so I spent a month in Beijing on a faculty-led maymester. It was really awesome. I didn’t take an engineering class. I took a social entrepreneurship/history class. I thought it was really nice to bring technical experience into business because I’d never explored business before.

When we were there, we were researching culture, and I actually joined the education team. I was looking at how women in China enter STEM education. It was really interesting to see that women are encouraged to go into science over there and just the challenges they have in their education that make it hard for them to pursue those careers. Our goal was to make a business that solved this social issue, and our business was inviting college students to study abroad in less well-known cities in China, so those cities can get income and open up their homes, and the program would encourage girls to get educations in rural villages.

What internship or work experiences have you had?

After studying abroad sophomore year, I decided I really liked studying engineering education, so I decided I should pursue this and go to graduate school for engineering education. The summer after my junior year, I decided to teach and see if that was the route I wanted to go. I worked with Phoenix Arising Aviation Academy. They hold summer programs and afterschool programs for kids in lower-income neighborhoods and enrich their education. It’s a way for me to use my aerospace and get some teaching experience to see if I really wanted to do that. It was a great experience.

Have you had any research experiences while at UT?

As a part of the University Leadership Network, one of our requirements is to either do an on-campus internship or an independent research project. I chose to do an independent research project, which I’ve been working on for two years now. My advising faculty is Dr. Jill Marshall in the College of Education. I’ve been looking into why women go into engineering because everyone has a very interesting path. My junior year, I made a survey to see what got people interested, and I sent it out to women in aerospace. I got about 30 responses back and got to see what influences people. It wasn’t family like what I thought, but just engineering itself, being able to do something hands-on and creative. I’m still working on it now. I actually just sent the survey out to everyone in engineering and am decoding the responses.

From where I’m from in Houston, there weren’t a lot of resources to teach engineering outside of science. I didn’t have exposure to it, and I just thought it was so sad that not everyone is able to explore all of their options just because of where they’re from. I remember taking AP Physics my senior year, and I was the only girl in my class, and that was really intimidating. I just want to encourage younger girls that they can do it even though they don’t see anyone like them in the room.

Christopher McCullough

Chris McCullough

Hometown: San Antonio, Texas
Degree: Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering
Post-graduation plans: To continue research on GRACE and GRACE-FO at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California

Can you briefly describe your research?

I work on a satellite mission called GRACE. GRACE is a pair of satellites that orbit the Earth, with the primary goal of measuring the Earth’s gravity field. The Earth’s gravity field is determined by the Earth’s mass, so if we track the Earth’s gravity field, we track the movement of mass around the Earth. That allows us to monitor time variability in the Earth’s climate, including surface and deep water ocean currents, mass exchange between ice sheets/glaciers and the ocean, and surface and groundwater storage. My specific research is focused on algorithmic enhancements to improve how well we estimate the gravity field. My faculty advisor is Srinivas Bettadpur.

Can you describe the advances you’ve made since you began this research?

I got my bachelor’s from UT Austin in 2010, and I started working on GRACE immediately after that at the Center for Space Research (CSR). When I started, I had no prior knowledge of GRACE and it took a while to transition from the general undergrad aerospace engineering mindset into graduate school and working on an actual mission. While the transition from undergrad to graduate school took some time, the chance to grow and learn about a host of multidisciplinary topics has been very personally rewarding.

When GRACE launched in 2002, the knowledge we had about the Earth’s time variable gravity field was extremely limited, compared to what we know now. Since then, we’ve significantly improved estimates of the Earth’s gravity field from GRACE, especially its time variability, and it has become a significant part of the scientific community. Currently, GRACE processing has gotten to the point where we can even resolve smaller scale mass changes in the Earth, such as monitoring the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (Landerer et. al., 2015).

What might be the potential applications of this research?

GRACE has been in operation since 2002, so it’s currently reaching the end of its mission lifetime. Therefore, the GRACE Follow-On mission is currently planned to launch sometime between December 2017 and February 2018. All of my research is directly applicable to analysis of GRACE-FO data and any other GRACE-like missions.In addition, improvements in the gravity field, as well as the improvements in how we quantify uncertainty in our knowledge of the gravity field, directly applies to future scientific analysis derived from GRACE. My work should enable improved characterization of scientific results; such as sea level rise and melting of the sheets; allow GRACE to be combined with other data types, and improve the assimilation of GRACE into physics based geophysical models. All of which will help improve environmental planning, climate modeling, and prediction of extreme weather events.

Amanda Walker

Amanda Walker

Hometown: Austin and all over Texas
Degree: B.S. in Aerospace Engineering
Post-graduation plans: To enter the work-force

Were you always interested in aerospace engineering?

I was always interested in space. When I was a kid, I loved the shuttle program and I wanted to be an astronaut. The people involved in the space program are amazing; they have all kinds of hobbies and are constantly learning. My mother would say my engineering career began when I built a pulley system across my bedroom ceiling so I could turn the lights on and off from bed. I’ve always loved building things; I’m constantly scrounging around for materials to make things with.

What extracurricular groups have you been involved with at UT?

I’ve been predominately involved with the Longhorn Rocketry Association (LRA). I started out as a member of the Certification Group (Cert) to build my level 1 & 2 high power rocket. After certifying, I became a build lead for Cert and taught a new group how to build their Cert rocket. I am now the Certification Officer and I manage Cert. I have also started a new group within the LRA, which I have named FrankenRocketry: The Mary Shelley Project.

Every semester we have a Certification Group; people join to build a high-powered rocket with the goal of successfully launching and obtaining their Level 1 & 2 Certifications, but not everyone who begins Cert Group finishes. Building a rocket takes time and people often get excited and over estimate how much time they have in their schedule; so they will finish fabricating most of the parts for their rocket, and then drop out because they need to dedicate time to other projects. Certification Group has also changed over the years; the rocket design we build has changed, which means the components from previous years differ in size. We end up with all these components in the attic taking up space, but they are all in great condition and made out of expensive material. As I was organizing our storage space, I realized how many useable components we have, and I didn’t want to see them thrown out. So instead, I decided that we should make rockets out of them.  I pitched the idea of starting a new group where we cobble together rockets out of what is there, the other officers thought it was a great idea so I’m heading that up this semester.

What internship or work experiences have you had?

When I first started the program, I worked as an administrative assistant at a local engineering firm. The position quickly became more about process optimization. Most people in the administrative department weren’t really computer or tech savvy. They were great at their jobs, but everything they did was super time-consuming. I ended up designing new processes, writing a procedure manual, and wrote code and scripts for them to streamline certain functions.

Wesley Yu

Wesley Yu

Hometown: El Paso, Texas
Degree: B.S. in Aerospace Engineering
Post-graduation plans: Ph.D. program at CalTech

What extracurricular groups have you been involved with at UT?

My freshman year, I joined the Longhorn Rocketry Association (LRA) and Design/Build/Fly. I stayed involved with LRA for a year and a half after that. All through that, I’ve been a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), the main professional organization for aerospace, and now I am currently the president of the UT student chapter of AIAA. As president, I mainly oversee the operations and organize a lot of the corporate interactions and partnerships. There’s an AIAA national conference every year, and I make sure everything is organized so some of our officers can go to that for more networking opportunities. I’ve definitely learned about leadership experience. It’s kind of interesting having to lead your peers when you’re all friends. But after a while, you learn how to delegate and how to manage.

Have you had any research experiences while at UT?

There are two projects. The first one I did for my honors thesis was a study of a Mach 5 boundary layer over a flat plate with a sharp leading edge. Basically, for that I had to design an apparatus to hold the plate in the tunnel and translate a Pitot probe throughout the tunnel. There were actually a lot of problems with it, as it kept breaking off in the high speed flow. Eventually, I got the design working and collected data using the Pitot probe and generated a velocity profile to compare with established results. We expect the results to help with hypersonic vehicle inlet and wing-fuselage junction design.

This current project that I’m working on is a methane burner. We are trying to generate turbulent airflow around the flame while keeping a low Reynolds number. We’re trying different methods to generate turbulence using reduced slow airflow. This project will be continuing after I graduate.

What internship or work experiences have you had?

I went up to Illinois for their high-performance computing internship program. I was working with their Blue Waters supercomputer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. That was summer of 2015. That was a great experience. I went up there for a few weeks to learn how to use their supercomputer, and how to conduct research using high-performance computing.

After that, I did low-thrust spacecraft trajectory modeling for about a year until the summer of 2016. That was a great experience to work on research year-long and being able to present my results at the Blue Waters Symposium.

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