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Wyeth McKinley '23 is taking flight at NASA

Wyeth McKinley '23 is taking flight  at NASA

Majoring in mechanical engineering with a minor in mathematics, Wyeth McKinley '23 will be launching his career at NASA this fall as a flight controller.

"I've always been obsessed with space, and I knew I liked engineering, but it wasn't until I got to Rice that I realized that there were careers in the space industry that I could actually pursue," Wyeth said.

As a freshman, Wyeth enrolled in the "Introduction to Engineering Design" course, where he spent a year working with a team focused on innovative solutions to a variety of issues in the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen. "That class prepared me for the working world more than any of my other classes," he explained. "I was able to work on a complex, team-oriented design project, and I found the experience extremely useful and applicable to my engineering work at NASA, both technically and interpersonally."

In addition to his hands-on engineering coursework and research, Wyeth also participated in electives that broadened his experience with technology and the space industry, leading the Rice Hyperloop propulsions team and serving as vice president of Rice's chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronauts. Wyeth's achievements and ambitions earned him a Trustee Distinguished Scholarship and other merit scholarships over the course of studies. "These scholarships were more than helpful," Wyeth explained. "They allowed me to attend Rice in the first place and let me enjoy my time here without worrying each day about financial barriers."

As Wyeth continued to explore where his passions could take him, he reached out to two Rice alumni in the industry who gave him tours of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and the Johnson Space Center, respectively. "They were incredibly nice and patient and let me ask a million questions. As a kid who was just realizing that these jobs and internships were an actual possibility for myself, their guidance was immensely helpful," he recalled.

Wyeth's career plans began to accelerate when he was accepted as an intern for NASA's Pathways Program. As part of the program, he spent one semester directly utilizing his engineering skills before pivoting to flight operations. "In the engineering position, I was working on one of the lunar landers for an upcoming mission. It was really cool to see how I was using the things I had learned in my engineering classes every day," Wyeth said.

However, it wasn't until he worked in flight operations executing real-time repair procedures for the International Space Station that he knew exactly what he wanted to do. "I got pretty hooked on that right away, just by the intensity and the pace of it. There's nothing else like it in the world," he explained. After graduating this spring, Wyeth will be returning to the Space Center to begin training as a flight controller for the International Space Station's spacecraft maintenance and repair operations.

As Wyeth prepares to launch his career, your gifts to Rice continue to equip talented students with resources critical to defining their own professional trajectory.

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