New day, new challenges, new opportunities
Alumni Series Where are they now?: Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering alumnus Matt Underwood
Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
From the time he was six years old, Matt Underwood’s family knew he was going to be an engineer.
“They bought me a K’nex set, a big Ferris wheel, and weren’t sure I was quite old enough for it,” Underwood said. “When they came downstairs the next day, I had it built and was operating it in our living room.”
Underwood received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering from the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources at West Virginia University in 2012, and is a past NASA WV Space Grant Consortium (WVSGC) fellow.
Having worked for seven years as a NASA aerospace research engineer, focused on air traffic management and flight-deck technologies, he has recently transitioned into an assembly, integration, and test engineer, working on projects such as the Mars Sample Return Mission, which will return rover-collected samples of Martian rock and soil to Earth for analysis.
His favorite thing about working at NASA is that he learns something new every day and each project and day brings a new challenge.
In summer 2012, Matt was able to attend the NASA Langley Aeronautics Academy thanks to support from WVSGC. He described this as his first exposure to what it meant to be an engineer, working as part of an interdisciplinary team on real problems.
“Before this, my goal was working with one of the big aerospace companies,” Underwood said. “We joke about things being ‘NASA hard.’ If anyone else could do it, it would already be done.”
His time at the Academy served as a three-month, live interview for his position at NASA, and he credits it as what got him his job there.
Underwood is passionate about paying it forward, encouraging, and mentoring others, as he was encouraged and mentored. He wants young people interested in the field to get those hands-on experiences that he had as part of the NASA WVSGC internship opportunities.
“You find out what you like, and what you don’t like,” he said. Something he stresses to the students that he works with is that it isn’t just about getting good grades. “Just because you fail a math test, it doesn’t mean you’re bad at math,” he continued.
From working on flight deck systems to managing teams through challenging setbacks, nothing quite compares to the awe he experiences during the launch or landing of a NASA space mission.
“These are the things that inspire a new generation – the Artemis generation, who will be the next engineers and pioneers at NASA,” Underwood said.
For more information about opportunities to work with NASA, please contact Candy Cordwell at Candy.Cordwell@mail.wvu.edu.
Contact: Paige Nesbit
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
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