Space missions fuel the fire for future aerospace engineer

Katie Schneider was born on the same day that NASA’s shuttle STS-75 launched. Looking back on that, it only seems fitting that her passion for aerospace engineering coincided with a NASA launch.

Schneider continued her fascination with space and had a strong desire to work in the NASA mission control room when she grew up. However in her teen years, Schneider switched tracks and planned to study business in college.

As a junior in high school, Schneider read about a new company, SpaceX, and how the private company was changing the aerospace industry. Reading the article reminded her that space wasn’t dead and that private companies like SpaceX were revitalizing the industry during a time when NASA was cutting programs. Schneider refocused her goals and entered Texas A&M University with the goal of becoming an aerospace engineer.

The Projects

Most high school students are advised to be well-rounded and participate in a variety of activities to help prepare for college. Once in college, students are taught to look to what future employers want in graduates. Engineering 111 taught Schneider to do something in engineering that would take her degree to the next level. Schneider has been actively involved in entrepreneurship and innovation projects since then.

Quadcopters, gadgets and exciting potential projects drew Schneider to her first semester of an Engineering Projects in Communication Service (EPICS) course. She didn’t get to work on the quadcopter project; instead she was on the Aggie Mini-Power Stations (AMPS) team for solar-based power stations on campus.Schneider and classmate at Engineering Project Showcase

The AMPS project wasn’t why she joined the course, but it taught her something valuable; she was passionate about engineering outside of the space industry as well as teaching her how to work on teams and with industry sponsors.

The AMPS project has continued and the team hopes to have prototypes (solar-powered bus timetables) around the Texas A&M campus before the end of the year. Schneider has moved to a different EPICS team, but is proud of being a former AMPS team member.

This year, Schneider was placed on the Boeing quadcopter project, an experience she is grateful for. The twist on this project is that her team is working with another team in the Texas A&M’s Mays Business School, which is responsible for the economic and financial aspect of the quadcopter design. Together, the two teams will be giving the final report to Boeing on quadcopter use for package delivery services.

“This is realistic. After college, we all have to work together and work with multiple industries,” said Schneider. “It’s a great experience.”

As a self-described “space nut,” Schneider jumped on the opportunity to be a part of Aggies Invent: 3-D Printing in Space. Her team, “Clean Sweep,” didn’t win, but she loved the experience. Aggies Invent is a 48-hour intensive design experience where students get to interact, get advice and present their ideas to leaders in industry, providing a unique and beneficial experience for students solving a real-world problem. Schneider got to hear stories from astronauts and interact with some of her aerospace heroes.

HyperWhoopThe next venture Schneider dove into was the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod competition. Schneider is the captain of a team designing a solution to the Hyperloop transportation theory. She’s particularly excited for this event because the sponsor, SpaceX, is the company that revitalized her interest in space. The design weekend of the competition is in January and being held on the Texas A&M campus. Her team’s proposal made the cut and will advance to the design weekend.

“Katie has done a great job in programs such as Aggies Invent and EPICS, and, it is exciting to see her engage in a variety of programs which provide her the knowledge and skills to support her career goals,” said Magdalini Lagoudas, executive director for industry and nonprofit partnership.

The Balancing Act

The real challenge for Schneider is balancing all her activities and her schoolwork. Each of these projects takes hours per week in addition to the heavy course load typical of an aerospace engineering student. Schneider balances her achievements by breaking them into her primary and secondary goals. First and foremost, Schneider works to maintain her scholarship and aerospace engineering honors-level GPA, and then she allows herself to be immersed in engineering projects and activities. 

Schneider described herself as working hard to become a “t-shaped engineer,” which is one of the college’s goals for students to have skills of both depth and breadth. She serves as an ASPIRE freshman mentor and is working toward an engineering project management certificate to continue developing her “t-shaped” engineering skills. She keeps her busy schedule and still manages to be part of University Honors.

Schneider pushes herself and stays motivated in her engineering path because of her dream to someday be part of a space mission. She knows that she’s in a tough field, that’s why her advice to other students and future students is to stick with it and push through the tough times because of a passion for engineering.

The Impact

Schneider knows that she’s been offered a great opportunity by the university. As a sophomore, she’s had the ability to be part of projects with other students and has even had the opportunity to lead project teams. She said each project confirms her passion and love for engineering.

“Texas A&M has offered me this great opportunity,” she said. “You’ve never built anything? That’s OK; go build something anyway. You’ve never used a 3-D printer? Go print something. Who would have thought that I’d actually get to do these things? It’s so cool.”