Smith’s ATU Journey Leads Him to NASA

Arkansas Tech University student Justin Smith is spending his summer surrounded by some of the world’s foremost rocket scientists.

Smith is interning at NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, Miss., the same facility that tested the rockets that propelled Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon nearly a half-century ago.

Today, personnel at the Stennis Center are testing the engines that might one day make human exploration of deep space possible.

“At first, coming to the Stennis Space Center seemed to be slightly overwhelming,” said Smith, “but as a few days went by I realized that it is a very friendly environment to work in. Everyone is really nice and inviting.”

Smith is performing research for new technology and upcoming missions during his internship, which is being served under the direction of Dr. Ramona Travis, the chief technologist at the Stennis Center.

“It’s really cool to understand what a lot of the employees here at NASA are talking about based on what I have learned in the classroom,” said Smith. “I’ve even been able to pitch my own ideas based on some projects I’ve done in the various labs I’ve participated in at Arkansas Tech.”

A first-generation college student, Smith began his association with Arkansas Tech through the TRIO Upward Bound Classic program. He graduated from Dover High School in 2015 and enrolled at Tech, where he is majoring in majoring in mechanical engineering and physics.

Smith is on pace to graduate from ATU in May 2019.

“I would like to actually work at NASA as a full-time employee one day,” said Smith. “I really appreciate the opportunity to gain experience in my field so that I will easily find a career in aerospace and mechanical technology when graduation rolls around.”