NASA People

Center Snapshot: Rusty Lowder
Rusty Lowder, LARSS. Image above: Rusty Lowder receives his certification of completion from Brenda Neil, Virginia Space Grant Consortium project manager. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

By: Riley Higgins

From working on a cotton farm in North Carolina to fighting fires in Iraq, NASA Langley intern Rusty Lowder has taken many turns in life. And he wouldn't change a thing, says Lowder, a student in the Langley Aerospace Research Summer Scholars (LARSS) program.

Following his stepfather's footsteps, Lowder became a volunteer firefighter at age 16. He worked as a fireman for six years, making it to a "level three" position in his small town of Albemarle, N.C.

Later, Lowder spent a year as a firefighter in Iraq, working for Wachenhut Services, a contracting company. His girlfriend - and now wife, Lanice Clark - was the main influence in his decision to go to Iraq.

Lowder worked 80-hour weeks in Iraq to make the money he would need to support him and his wife and to put her through nursing school.

He says being away from his wife was difficult, but willpower kept him going.

"I just knew I had to do it. When I got over there it's like, 'OK, I decided to do it, I’m doing it,' " he says.

Originally, Lowder had no intention of a career beyond firefighting. So when he returned from Iraq and went back to school at Guilford Technical Community College in Jamestown, N.C., he wasn’t sure what to study.

Eventually, he decided on aerospace engineering.

"When I was a kid, I wanted to fly. I enjoyed airplanes and everything about them," Lowder says.

With scholarships from the Jamestown Rotary Club, the Coca Cola Co., and the Guildford Technical Community College Foundation, he was able to continue schooling at GTCC. The North Carolina Space Grant Consortium has helped with tuition to North Carolina State University, which Lowder attends.

Lowder first heard about the LARSS program through the North Carolina Space Grant Consortium, which sponsored him for the internship.

"I'm just looking to get the best experience I can," says Lowder, who is working in the Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Lab of the Electronics Branch, Engineering Directorate.

Lowder says he tries to get the most he can out of every experience and feels that the discipline of serving alongside the military in Iraq has helped him become detail-oriented and better able to stick to a schedule.

He now plans to get a master's degree and hopes to get into aircraft design.

Though Lowder didn't take the conventional path to engineering, he is happy with his choice and has enjoyed his time here at NASA Langley.

He said he has many people to thank for guiding and supporting him, including his wife, family and instructors.