New institute encourages students to pursue space industry careers
COLLEGE STATION - The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents established a new institute Thursday (March 26) to help boost the number of students pursuing careers in the space industry. Officials of the Space Engineering Institute (SEI), which will be part of the Texas Engineering Experiment Station, hope to get students excited about working in space systems engineering by involving them directly in doing what individuals working in the field actually do. The institute will give students on-the-job training in the design, testing and construction of spacecraft systems. Dr. David Boyle, who will head the institute, said studies have shown the United States is falling behind in motivating its best and brightest students to enter engineering and related fields. "We went to the moon because kids came out of high school wanting careers in science and engineering," he said. "Now, 40 years later, people are coming out of college and showing little interest in spacecraft engineering fields. We'd like to get the best and brightest students choosing to go into engineering and especially into space systems engineering." In Texas, the problem also extends to students from underrepresented groups as smaller proportions of them choose to study engineering. For example, Boyle said, Texas has a huge pool of untapped talent in the Hispanic community. Hispanics and others from underrepresented groups tend to not see themselves in an engineering field, especially space systems engineering. "If we could get the fraction of minority students going into space systems engineering up to the same level as that of non-minorities, then we'd be taking a huge step towards solving the national problem," he said. Starting their freshman year, SEI students will learn hands-on technician skills required by industry and government for fabricating space hardware. As they become juniors and seniors and have taken more advanced engineering classes, they will move into putting these analytical skills to work, using the same spacecraft design computer codes as Boeing and NASA. SEI students will be required to work 10 to 20 hours a week at the institute, where they will be assigned to teams working on space hardware projects for NASA and the space industry. "They become members of the team here," Boyle said. Students will also take part in outreach activities designed to get more high school students interested in studying math and science. SEI is a collaboration between the Texas Engineering Experiment Station and Texas A&M University's Dwight Look College of Engineering and is supported by NASA.