Cooper Matthieson

Cooper MatthiesonColumbia University
Mechanical Engineering

From a young age, I was captured by math and science (and LEGOs) and how definitive they were. You couldn’t quite solve a sentence’s structure like you could solve a math problem. These interests only grew as I took more math and science classes. During my junior year in high school, I was accepted into the Apprentice Researcher’s Program at UC Santa Barbara to assist a materials science PhD candidate with her research during the summer. This was my first exposure to what engineering was really like and it seemed like the perfect fit for me. It combined all of my interests and gave me so many opportunities to thrive. With that, I began applying to engineering programs and was accepted early to Columbia University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

At first, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to study so I dabbled in as many as disciplines as I could. I took classes in physics, math, chemical engineering, environmental engineering, and mechanical engineering. Eventually, I focused in on mechanical engineering because of how it fosters creativity and design ingenuity along with giving me a lot of options after school.

Now where does aerospace engineering fit in? During my sophomore year, I went to a TEDx talk by NASA astronaut Michael Massimino about his time at NASA and being in space. I can’t remember being more riveted than hearing about what he got to do and how he almost broke the Hubble Space Telescope. Up until this moment, it had never occurred to me that aerospace engineering and potentially becoming an astronaut were things I could pursue. Once the seed was planted, my fascination with space and aerospace engineering only flourished. I’ve been very fortunate to get to know Mr. Massimino better, as he’s become a professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Columbia and a great mentor.

That brings me to where I am now. As a junior, I’m currently enrolled in Mr. Massimino’s class, Intro to Humans in Space Flight, which is an absolute blast. We learn about each aspect of space exploration and how they all work together from a systems engineering standpoint. We are also working on a project to improve the NASA Crew Earth Operations (CEO) project interface so that astronauts on the International Space Station have an easier time identifying targets they need to take pictures of. I couldn’t be happier getting the opportunity to further my passion for space exploration this summer at the NASA Ames Space Academy and I’m looking forward to wherever it takes me, whether it’s graduate school, the aerospace industry, or elsewhere!