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CSU & NASA: Advancing space science and exploration

Updated: Apr 23, 2021

A group of 6 people standing around NASA's Glenn Research Center sign

Andrew Wimmer helped develop novel, high-temperature, nickel-based superalloys for use in future aerospace applications. Melanie Brunner assisted in the administration of a comprehensive database for national and international oversight of radio spectrum use. Santino Bianco got to work on the concept design for an improved lander for surface exploration missions to Venus.

While one might think it would take years of experience and dues-paying to get these types of opportunities, Wimmer, Brunner and Bianco actually worked on these projects while they were students at Cleveland State University.

All three were part of CSU’s longstanding cooperative education and internship program with NASA’s John H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field in Cleveland. The program places CSU students in various research and business divisions at NASA Glenn, which is one of the agency’s central science and engineering laboratories. Students get an incredible engaged learning experience, which gives them an opportunity to literally shape history, while also getting a tremendous boost in carving out a career path.

Man standing in front of a NASA sign

“I never would have guessed that I would have the opportunity to help work on a space mission to Venus,” Bianco says. “And this was not a normal internship. I got to work on design specifications and analysis for the lander and attended an international meeting where data I helped create was presented. It really is mind blowing.”

During her internship at NASA Glenn’s Spectrum Management Office, Brunner was tasked with cleaning up and improving the management of a database of regulatory approvals for radio spectrum use. She was given tremendous freedom by her supervisors to assist in the development and implementation of procedures for improving the database, and was ultimately hired as a NASA contractor following graduation to continue development and oversight of the system.

Woman standing at a podium

“It has been incredibly gratifying to be a part of the development of a highly valuable and relied-on database used by the NASA Spectrum Management Office,” Brunner says. “If not for my connections as a CSU student, I would not have the role I now hold.”

“Engineering and science are hands-on disciplines which require significant experiential education to augment what our students learn in the classroom,” adds Anette Karlsson, dean of the Washkewicz College of Engineering at CSU. “Our collaboration with NASA Glenn is a perfect example of how students can gain the skills they need, learn more about the field they want to enter after graduation and have some truly memorable experiences.”

The CSU/NASA collaboration actually began before either entity technically existed. The predecessor of Cleveland State, Fenn College, developed a student coop program for engineering students in the years after World War II with what was then the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. Today, the effort has grown to include coop and internship opportunities for students in nearly every major on campus.

In addition, the two institutions conduct multiple joint research initiatives and educational collaborations, including opportunities for NASA engineers, scientists and managers to serve as adjunct faculty on campus and for faculty to serve as staff researchers at NASA Glenn. CSU also produces an annual economic impact study to highlight the tremendous positive effect NASA Glenn has on Northeast Ohio. 

“As the space race began, NASA was in need of significant technical expertise and workforce assistance. Fenn College, and later CSU, was perfectly positioned to assist, given its focus on applied research and experiential learning,” says Julian Earls, former director of NASA Glenn, who currently serves as executive-in-residence with CSU’s Monte Ahuja College of Business.

“This teamwork has been incredibly beneficial to both entities, providing NASA with a talented workforce and needed training and research assistance, while serving as one of the key building blocks for CSU’s innovative and nationally-recognized Engaged Learning model of higher education.”

The success of the collaboration can also be seen through the ever growing list of CSU alumni who now serve in key leadership positions throughout NASA. This includes Roger C. Forsgren, director of NASA’s Academy of Program/Project and Engineering Leadership (APPEL), Jason Crusan, director of Advanced Exploration Systems, Robyn N. Gordon, director of NASA Glenn’s Center Operations Directorate, and Robert F. Lasalvia, chief of the Office of Education at NASA Glenn.

Person in an engineering lab

“CSU and NASA have very similar cultures, educationally speaking. They both are really helpful in providing the necessary tools for interns to ‘hit the ground running’ to get as much out of the experience as possible,” says Wimmer, whose 15-week internship was ultimately extended to a part-time contract thanks to his central role in the implementation of 3D printing technology in the design and development of nickel-based superalloy parts for use in future aircraft.

“The benefits of participating in a program like this can’t be overstated,” he adds. “I would encourage all students to take advantage of this incredible opportunity.”


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