Chris Randall: Aerospace Engineer
I can't remember a time when I didn't have space on the brain. I vividly recall watching space shuttle launches on classroom televisions as a kid. We'd sit there spellbound -- awed into rare silence -- as the shuttle lifted off and carried men and women into space.
I knew early on that those explorers had made it their mission to make the world a better place -- and I also knew that I wanted to make it my mission too.
That meant math and science courses -- a lot of them. And big dreams or not, it's hard to get a kid -- any kid -- to stay focused on algebra and chemistry and physics! I have to give credit to my mother and a succession of great teachers for helping to keep me focused. They always reminded me that dreaming is easy, but realizing those dreams requires hard work and determination.
I have seen those traits pay off. I joined Marshall in 2005 as a co-op while working on a degree in mechanical engineering with a special focus in aerospace propulsion. My dreams of making a difference really came alive when I became a full-time employee here after finishing my degree.
Today, I'm an aerospace engineer, and I get to work on rockets! I've also worked on life support systems for the International Space Station and hardware for the space shuttle. I work with a team of incredibly talented people, and we all share the same goal: to make it possible for men and women to travel, live and work in space -- and to use that special work to improve life back home on Earth.
I'm very grateful to all the people who helped me get here, so I'm doing what I can to pay it forward. I want to help others achieve their dreams and find the same rewarding success I've found as part of the NASA family.
As a NASA recruiter and mentor, I get to visit classrooms around the country and talk to students about careers in science, technology, engineering and math. I also work with new Marshall employees to help them flourish as part of the NASA team.
In 2008, I helped create a hands-on engineering training project at the same college where I earned my degree. Each year, professors select several industrious engineering seniors to participate in a two-semester design project for Marshall. In addition to attending classes at their school, the students spend four hours a week here, working alongside professional aerospace engineers in designing or redesigning rocket hardware.
This is priceless practical experience for those students -- and it offers NASA real benefits as well. America's space program demands a steady influx of bright young minds eager to explore and discover on Earth and beyond for decades to come.
I love what I do, and I hope I can instill that passion in future scientists, engineers and explorers. There are so many terrific opportunities out there! Students, especially those in underserved schools, need positive role models who will help them learn about exciting careers like those NASA offers.
If I can catch youngsters' attention -- if I can help them imagine being researchers, rocket builders and astronauts -- then I'll feel like I have paid it forward. I'll feel like I helped make the world a better place.