ISU alumnus working for NASA recommends students ‘keep their eyes open’

Jenna Miller

Kelly Smith, who is now employed by NASA, graduated from Iowa State in May 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering.

Smith was involved in many things while working towards his degree. He was actively involved in VEISHEA, a member of the Sigma Gamma Tau honor society, President of American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, a community advisor for seven semesters, and he also dressed as Cy for some events for eight months.

Right now, Smith is working for NASA as a trajectory analyst at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Smith was offered his job in January 2010.

Smith credits most of this job finding to the engineering career fair. When he was a sophomore at Iowa State, he interviewed with NASA, but he admits he was not prepared, and he did not get picked as a co-op student.

However, that following year he had better prepared himself, and did get hired as a co-op student. He was a co-op student for 15 months before accepting the job at NASA after graduation.

Once he graduated, he had to adjust to many transitions in his life. First, he moved across the country, got married, bought a new car, and now he is house hunting. “Everything on campus is tailored towards the students, but it’s not really like that in the real world,” Smith said.

At NASA, Smith and his group are in charge of documenting space shuttles and flight take-offs and making sure that the astronauts have quick, efficient and safe trips. He explained that on a typical day of work, however, he spends time writing computer programs to help with tasks that would take too long to do manually.

Some of his biggest challenges so far have been the fact that he started immediately after graduating.

“Most of the people I work with have master’s degrees or higher, and I only have a bachelor’s,” Smith said. “It takes some work to catch up and work on the same level as everyone else.”

At the moment, Smith is working on a graduate program through Stanford University. He is taking classes for artificial intelligence, but is unsure if he will stick with that or go back to aerospace engineering.

Smith’s recommendations for current ISU students in the aerospace engineering program is to look into other programs besides just aerospace.

He also recommends for students to “keep [their] eyes open for new opportunities because it is much harder to learn new things outside of school.”

He also said it is important to pursue internships and get work experience in your field.