A lot of kids say they want to be an astronaut when they grow up, but most eventually change their minds. Matthew Fitzgerald is not most. The senior engineering major at the University of Tennessee at Martin has his sights set on the space program and this summer will have his first taste of the organization when he interns at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in Huntsville, Ala.
“We’ll do a design and stress analysis of a support structure for a space telescope,” Fitzgerald said of his approaching internship duties. “The support structure will actually be what goes on the craft and gets it into space.”
Fitzgerald chose to pursue mechanical engineering when he learned that the study focus is recommended to become a mission specialist, and he chose to pursue his engineering degree at UT Martin after touring the campus and meeting the engineering professors.
“I talked to some of the professors and they showed me some of the senior projects that other seniors were doing. I think that was the biggest part of it,” he said, explaining that his close relationship with professors has given him an edge on engineering knowledge, which could also have played a part in his being the first choice for the NASA internship. “The guys told me I was the first choice among the applicants.”
A large portion of Fitzgerald’s senior year has been has been painstakingly perfecting his own senior engineering project, a balsa wood airplane with its own propulsion system; another part has been packed with graduate school applications and tours. He’s still weighing his options between four graduate school programs: The University of Illinois, UT Knoxville, Baylor University and Auburn University.
“I’ve got to sit down with one of my professors this week and talk to them about it. The schools all have their own pros and cons,” he said, and again attributed his professors with his positive graduate school experiences. “UT Martin is awesome, because the professors introduce you to a lot of stuff. When I went to tour these [graduate school] campuses, I met with professors whose specialties are a lot of different things, and I was able to have intelligent conversations with all of them because I had that background.”
For now though, Fitzgerald is excited to know that his experience in the summer with Huntsville will be lasting.
“I think the telescope is set to go up like 10 years from now,” he said. “So 10 years or so from now I’ll be like, ‘Yes, I did that.’”
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