Meet the Grads, Eleanor Kearney: The three-time NASA intern
After watching a video of a NASA Space Shuttle launch as a middle school student, a spark ignited in Eleanor Kearney.
Story by Adrianne Uphold, Multimedia Specialist
"I realized how exciting the aerospace industry was and how math and science weren't just for laboratories," Kearney said. "I picked aerospace engineering because I liked the industry, but once I started taking my classes, I have learned what engineering really entails. I found that in my heart, I am a mechanical engineer who enjoys aerospace applications."
Kearney found that the mechanical and aerospace engineering dual degree program at the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources increased her job opportunities, and it opened the door to her accepting three internships and now a full-time job at NASA.
Through funding provided by the NASA WV Space Grant Consortium (WVSGC), Kearney accepted a role as a rotorcraft aeromechanics intern at the NASA Ames Research Center in San Francisco, California, where she simulated the Martian atmosphere for planetary rotorcraft testing.
"I helped determine what sensors would be best for a wind tunnel to be placed in a near-vacuum chamber, which simulates the Martian atmosphere for planetary rotorcraft testing, like the Mars Helicopter,” Kearney said. “I also performed some structural analysis on a blast shield that protected a window in the chamber."
Kearney learned how NASA performs groundbreaking research and the extraordinary effort it takes from each department to take a mission from concept to reality. The funding from WVSGC kick-started Kearney’s career at the Ames Research Center in 2019, which inspired her to dive deeper into the aerospace industry.
Following her internship at Ames Research Center, she decided to halt her classes in spring 2020 to gain real-world experience at the NASA John F. Kennedy Space Center. There, she served as a pathways intern within the Institutional Projects branch of the Spaceport Integration and Services directorate.
"The branch is the interface between the other groups at the Kennedy Space Center and the contractors that perform construction and facilities duties," Kearney said. "I first started by learning about the entire life cycle of a project, from pre-award to post-award and closeout. My time in that branch culminated when I acted as task order manager for a real project."
Kearney said it was eye-opening to see how a facilities task is carried out once submitted and all the different organizations involved. Her final internship at Kennedy Space Center in 2021 was like a combination of her previous two internships, which she says was the perfect role for her.
"I was able to apply my management and approvals knowledge to the Cryogenic Propulsion Systems branch at Space Center, which handles all things cryogenic for the Space Launch System rocket," Kearney said. "I spent the summer of 2021 doing both onsite and remote activities, such as attending LH2 Tanker offloading's and creating reference guides for the mobile launcher umbilical plates and cleanliness ratings."
Before NASA, she worked as a counselor for the Statler College Engineering Challenge Camp where she shared the importance of engineering with others. Her knack for talking about her passion for engineering encouraged her to continue volunteering, which led her to become a West Virginia University Statler Ambassador starting in 2019.
"I love being able to share my passions about WVU with prospective students and help them figure out their place here at Statler," Kearney said. "I've become much more confident with my ability to describe engineering concepts and effectively communicate with any audience. I was even able to return to my high school and present incoming students with their scholarships."
While at Statler College, Kearney was a member of the WVU student organizations American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Experimental Rocketry Team. She was also a member of the Pride of West Virginia Marching Band during her first two years, and she just finished her fifth season with the Basketball Pep Band.
"The reason you choose to go to a school is for the academics, but you choose to stay is for your extracurriculars. Finding your niche outside of classes helps to give you a way to show your passions and truly enjoy your college experience," Kearney said.
One of the most crucial parts of her success was the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering faculty, including Christopher Griffin, teaching assistant professor, Wade W. Huebsch, professor, and Gregory Thompson associate professor.
"The entire department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering faculty has truly supported me throughout my time here at WVU by always having their offices open and respecting me as not just a student, but also a future engineer," Kearney said. "I especially feel that Dr. Griffin and Dr. Huebsch have made me feel valued in the engineering college. Starting as just their students and then becoming their teaching assistant, they have always been welcoming and encouraging of my potential. Dr. Thompson has also shown that he respects me as a fellow (future) engineer by always listening to students' feedback and allowing us to take charge on projects."
After graduating in May, Kearney plans to vacation in Alaska for several weeks before returning to work in Cocoa Beach, Florida, in the cryogenic propulsion systems branch at NASA Kennedy Space Center.
"I'll be able to help with the final preparation steps for launching the Artemis missions with the Space Launch System and help take the next generation of astronauts on the moon,” she added.
Contact: Paige Nesbit
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4135, Paige Nesbit
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