Statesboro native James Shaw is living the life he dreamed about as a 5-year-old — working for NASA.
Shaw graduated Dec. 9 from Georgia Southern University and the mechanical engineering major just finished his fourth rotation in a cooperative education program with NASA and is thanking his GSU experiences for leading him there.
After graduating from Southeast Bulloch High School in 2003, Shaw joined the U.S. Army and served in South Korea, Kuwait and Iraq. He came to Georgia Southern in the spring of 2010 to pursue his engineering degree at the university he always wanted to attend.
Shaw happened upon an expired NASA co-op poster in the engineering building, and decided to go online to browse available openings. He found an application for an educational program where students participate in planned work experiences related to their academic major or career interest. That was the only opening that particular week. He applied and soon after, was interviewed and hired.
“I always wanted to be an astronaut, but as I got older I began to understand what it takes to build something as complicated as a spacecraft, and I realized that astronauts are just the tip of the spear when it comes to exploring space,” Shaw said. “I still have intentions of submitting an astronaut candidate packet. I just don’t qualify — yet.”
During his co-op as an undergraduate, Shaw helped test and model batteries for Robonaut and lunar landers, studied the ablation heat shield on spacecrafts, repaired 3D printers and worked on training simulators for the flight controllers.
“My favorite experience so far was when I got to sit on console in Mission Control during Scott Kelly’s first spacewalk,” Shaw said.
He noticed the difficulty Kelly was having trying to grease the Space Station’s robotic arm and offered a suggestion to ease the process. His idea was passed on to the flight director who then modified the procedure using Shaw’s recommendations and complimented him on his idea.
“Nothing like having NASA engineers and a flight director call you brilliant,” he said.
Shaw’s coursework at Georgia Southern he believes gives him the skills he needs to excel in the program. His knowledge of solid modeling, heat transfer, statics and dynamics was exactly what he needed to prepare for the job.
“Georgia Southern offers so much hands-on experience in their engineering curriculum,” Shaw said.
Not only did Shaw’s hands-on experiences in class help him to succeed, but his relationships with his professors including Associate Professor Mosfequr Rahman, Ph.D., Professor Aniruddha Mitra, Ph.D., and department chair and Professor Brian L. Vlcek, Ph.D., also helped him grow.
“My academic success has largely been because of the overwhelming support from professors in the department,” Shaw said. “I’ve had the privilege of taking multiple classes with Dr. Rahman, Dr. Mitra and Dr. Vlcek. Even before being selected for this co-op, I had a paper published by Dr. Rahman from my project on finite element analysis. This really helped me in the long-run because I was able to talk about it in my interview with NASA.”
Shaw has accepted a full-time position in NASA’S Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory and will start in January after his recent graduation.
“I would love to have other Georgia Southern students working for NASA, so I love encouraging people by sharing my story,” Shaw said.
Aubrey Trevathan works in the Office of Marketing & Communications at Georgia Southern University.