WVU alumnus parlays NASA internships into employment
Since he was a boy, Alan Didion knew he controlled his own destiny. When he decided that destiny involved working in the space industry, he came to West Virginia University.
“I have always had this dream
of being able to do things that have never been done before,” said Didion. “I
knew if I wanted to make a mark on this world other than a carbon footprint, I
needed to rally my ambition, never accept anything but the best and get an
A first generation college student from Wheeling, Didion enrolled in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources in 2009, where he immediately started working as an undergraduate research fellow, developing helicopter rotor blade technology.
Didion’s dedication to his classwork and research in his freshman year earned him an engineering internship at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the following summer.
“Getting involved was key to much of the success I found at WVU,” said Didion, explaining that his membership in the Student Partnership for the Advancement of Cosmic Exploration also helped open the door to many of his opportunities. “SPACE connected me with the West Virginia Space Grant Consortium, which in turn funded all of my internship experiences with NASA.”
Over the next five years, Didion continued to succeed at WVU and NASA as he earned bachelor’s degrees in mechanical and aerospace engineering and worked toward his master’s degree in aerospace engineering. He worked at NASA’s Independent Verification and Validation Center in Fairmont, and Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, while staying involved with WVU’s Sample Return Robot Challenge and Formula SAE teams.
“Alan was extremely smart and hard-working and always eager to help with various Space Grant public outreach events to promote STEM education and research in West Virginia,” said Majid Jaridi, director of WVSGC and professor of industrial and management systems engineering. “I am always very proud to hear from my NASA colleagues that he has represented our college, WVU and our state very well in his varying roles at NASA.”
Upon graduation with his master’s degree in December 2015, Didion was offered a prestigious systems engineering internship with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, where he provided engineering and mission design support for numerous design teams and assessed feasibility of space exploration scenarios.
On the last day of his internship in March, Didion was offered a full-time position at the Laboratory. He is now a systems engineer in mission concept systems development. Didion credits the hands-on opportunities at WVU for helping him build his resume.
“I believe the Statler College’s strong focus on project-oriented teamwork was instrumental in making myself marketable in real world industry,” said Didion. “Everywhere I go, I meet bright students and young engineers from big-name engineering schools that didn’t prepare them for practical work quite like WVU had done for me. Those long nights grinding out work on classwork and student projects have given me the upper hand.”
According to Didion, the industry is starting to notice the difference between WVU graduates and those from other Universities, too.
“WVU graduates are becoming more and more well-known for their creativity, adaptability and ability to break the bonds of conventional textbook wisdom,” said Didion. “Any ambitious, hard-working WVU graduate can do anything a graduate of a school bearing a hefty price tag or a gilded name can.”
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