LARSS Participant Christie Funk
Christie Funk works on a wing model in a wind tunnel

LARSS Intern and Student Ambassador Christie Funk works in the Transonic Dynamics Wind Tunnel at NASA's Langley Research Center. She's performing end-to-end unsteady pressure transducer checks on the Semispan Supersonic Transport wind tunnel model. Image Credit: NASA

In which NASA student opportunity project did you participate, and how did you get involved in it?

I am a LARSS (Langley Aerospace Research Summer Scholars) student at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. Preparation and networking led to my involvement with this project. I had researched opportunities at NASA, and one day, while I was working at my previous restaurant job, Debbie Murray (LARSS program coordinator) came in to make a reservation for USRP (Undergraduate Student Research Project). Because I knew that USRP was a NASA student program, it sparked a conversation and I used the opportunity to pass along my resume. From there, Debbie put me in touch with a mentor at LaRC, and I was able to begin my application process for the LARSS program. I am now in my third LARSS session and, through use of the NASA pipeline, I will work as a co-op at LaRC beginning in the fall.

Explain the research you conducted through your NASA involvement, and why this topic is important.

I work in the Aeroelasticity Branch at NASA's Langley Research Center. I am working with a supersonic wind tunnel model that is tested for the purpose of demonstrating flutter suppression, gust-load alleviation and ride-quality control. The model is tested over a range of Mach numbers and dynamic pressures. Two open loop tests have been previously conducted in order to characterize the model. A third (test), closed loop, ... is underway where implementation of various control laws is being performed to improve aircraft performance. The work I am doing is important because it contributes to the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate's goals of improving airspace capacity and mobility, aviation safety, and improving aircraft performance.

What has been the most exciting part of your research?

Every day is exciting! I can't possibly delegate the rank of "most exciting" to any one component of my work. Working in the Aeroelasticity Branch, I have been able to study an elastically scaled wind-tunnel model, participate in wind-tunnel testing, analyze data from tunnel tests, work with computer simulations, and learn from the most elite group of scientists and engineers.

What is your educational background and what are your future educational plans?

My educational background is "untraditional" for someone in the STEM fields. I have a bachelor's degree in business management. I will have earned a master's degree in aeronautical science in 2009, and I will be starting a second graduate program in aerospace engineering in August 2009.

What inspired you to choose the education/career field you did?

I have always been fascinated with planes, particularly high-speed military jets. I applied for Air Force OTS (Officer Training School) after graduation to gain experience in Aircraft Maintenance. In order to be successful on the qualifying exam, I began flight school. I instantaneously decided to change my educational direction and apply for programs in the aeronautics field. I was accepted at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University as a graduate student in Aeronautical Science. Having been fortunate enough to gain acceptance into the LARSS program, I have quickly realized that my passion lies in the work done at NASA. In order to pursue a career at NASA, I have decided to enter into a second graduate program to earn a master's degree in aerospace engineering.

What do you think will be the most important things you'll take away from your involvement with NASA?

The most important things that I will take away from this experience include a broader understanding of NASA's missions and the innovative work done to continually advance technology and improve life on Earth, knowledge gained from the selfless time and energy that my mentors have put forth to help me succeed, and the confidence that I can contribute to and make a difference in this industry.

Astronaut Scott Kelly and Christie Funk

Christie Funk met astronaut Scott Kelly during the STS-127 Pre-Launch Education Forum. Image Credit: NASA

How do you think your NASA involvement will affect your future?

My involvement in the LARSS program will greatly affect my future. It has already given me the confidence to know that I can accomplish anything that I want to, and it has solidified for me my future career direction. The help and inspiration that I have received from my mentors and others across the center will affect the way that I help others in the future. The knowledge that I have gained will help me to become a better engineer and contribute to future NASA missions.

What are your future career plans?

I plan to be an aerospace engineer. I plan to do great things with my degrees and experience! In my future career, I hope to make an impact contributing to newer, safer, and more efficient aircraft and spacecraft designs, educate others about the importance of NASA missions, inspire young innovators to continue to work hard and pursue their dreams, be involved in manned exploration missions, and land on the moon!

What advice would you have for other students who are interested in becoming involved with, or working for, NASA?

Never underestimate your abilities. Always work hard for what you want and for however long it takes. Perseverance pays off. Open your minds to accept education and advice from STEM "veterans." Be passionate. Research opportunities that interest you. Network with others. Learn as much as you can. Take the initiative to educate yourself. Be patient. Love what you do. Get involved as early as you can. Perform well. Be prepared. Appreciate and take advantage of every opportunity that you earn. Ask questions. Help others along the way. Exhaust all resources so that you can find the right opportunity for you. Learn, learn, learn! Set goals. Believe that you can do it!

How might you expect to contribute as a participant as a NASA Student Ambassador?

I hope I can encourage others to participate in NASA student programs. I hope I can help keep their passion alive and continue to inspire them. I hope I can share my story and help others realize that it is important to continue to work hard to achieve your goals.

Related Resources:
>  NASA Student Ambassadors
>  Langley Aerospace Research Summer Scholars Project
>  NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate
>  Aeroelasticity Branch at Langley Research Center
>  NASA Education