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Meet Donovan Mathias

Aerospace Engineer
NASA Ames Research Center

"I read A LOT. I think this was the single most important thing I did growing up that prepared me for college and my career."


Who I am and What I Do

Have you ever wondered "How much does a space ship cost?" or "How big do the engines have to be to get to the Space Station?" I work at NASA as part of a team that builds software to analyze these and many other different aspects of space vehicles. I currently work at NASA Ames Research Center, located in Mountain View, CA, as an Aerospace Engineer. My current assignment is with NASA's Space Launch Initiative (SLI) Program. The Program is working to make space travel safer and less expensive. To do my job well, I have to be able to work with a team of people. This means I must be a good listener and must be able to express myself clearly. Since I work as an engineer, a also have a strong interest in math and physics.

Growing Up
I grew up in a small town in southern California, where I lived with my mom. I've always been an avid reader. When I was in 5th grade, I was the only kid in the class who wanted to be a scientist. I liked to take things apart to see how they worked, and do science experiments I'd read about in books. I read everything I could get my hands on, from mysteries you could solve yourself to racing stories, karate books, and World War II history. I read A LOT. I think this was the single most important thing I did growing up that prepared me for college and my career.

As a senior in high school, there were two teachers (Mr. Farramond and Mr. Burns) that really opened my eyes to the connection between math and physics. This was a real breakthrough for me and has made a huge difference in my career. When I graduated from Fallbrook High School, I went to San Diego State University before transferring to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo.

Career Journey
Science has always been fascinating to me, though I did not have a specific career goal until I started applying for college. When I began looking at different careers I realized that engineers were the people that applied science to designing and building all sorts of things. Space flight, airplanes, and racing cars were interesting to me, so I chose Aerospace Engineering as a major in college. From the first class I took, I knew this was a good choice for me.

As a student at Cal Poly, I asked one of my professors if he could help me get a summer internship at NASA Ames. I spent the summer working as a flight–test assistant for the XV–15 tiltrotor, a plane that takes off like a helicopter and flies like an airplane. I spent several additional summers working at NASA, and moved permanently to the area while working on my Master's degree in 1993. I have been at Ames Research Center, in one form or another, ever since.

I have three degrees in engineering: B.S. in Aeronautical Engineering from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, M.S. in Aeronautical Engineering from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Stanford University.

I really enjoy working with the great people on my team. In addition, it is really fascinating to work with airplanes and space ships, and I learn new things almost every day. If I could change one thing about my job it would be meetings. Some days I spend so much time in meetings that I feel like I am not getting anything done. Meetings are important, though, so I keep attending them.

Personal
When I'm not at work, I like to relax and play with my dog, a German Shepherd I call Fenja. I also train in the martial arts. I used to teach a kids' karate class, and I always shared the following with my students: "Practice makes habit, but perfect practice makes perfect." Some other hobbies I enjoy involve traveling and outdoor activities like scuba diving and camping. The National Parks website shows some of my favorite places to hike and camp. I also like to cook, and I enjoy watching other people cook. A favorite TV show of mine dealing with food is Good Eats.

Advice
In my mind there are two important things when pursuing a career:

  1. Pick something that you enjoy doing
  2. Work hard toward that goal

In engineering, this means taking classes in math and science as soon as possible. I know everyone tells you to work hard in school, and I agree. Grades play a big role in getting into college, and they can also be important when applying for a job right after college. Also, having a good work ethics is important at work and in life. I think school is like a job for young people, so if you work hard in school, chances are this will help you later on in life.

Last Updated: October 16, 2001

 
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