(Written October 2013)
Curiosity, the NASA rover exploring Mars, may be over 50 million miles away, but one University student’s work has brought it a little closer to Lawrence.
Ryan Endres, a junior aerospace engineering student from DeSoto, spent the past summer in Pasadena, Calif., interning at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and working closely with Curiosity.
Despite being offered an internship at one of the most prestigious scientific institutions in the world, Endres spent much of his time proving to people why a kid from a small town in Kansas deserved to be there.
“The most awesome thing is that people would doubt me,” Endres said. “They would be like, ‘Kansas? That’s not a top 25 school.’ I heard that so many times. Well no, but there are so many good things about it. KU holds its own very well, and we’re producing just as good students.”
Endres worked with the Integrated Planning and Execution team for Curiosity, where he helped compile a database for the information the rover was sending back to NASA from Mars. He learned of the internship through a family friend who was impressed with his work at the University, primarily his work outside the classroom.
Endres’ extracurricular activities include being president of Engineers Without Borders at the University, involvement with the Self Engineering Leadership Fellows Program, and even running marathons. He said it was these experiences at the University that made him feel qualified to work at the JPL and appreciative of his roots.
“I felt like I belonged there,” Endres said. “I felt like there were aspects of KU that are vital and essential to being a well-rounded person that made me fit in. It was humbling to be there, but it made me realize
I’m just as good as everyone else there too, which is pretty cool because there’s people at KU who are better than me, so it shows you just how good the University of Kansas is.”
Endres’ work with Curiosity required difficult and complicated tasks, like learning to write in the programming language Python. He said the strain of the job could feel overwhelming at times, but the importance of what he was working on served as inspiration for him.
“The cool thing about the aerospace engineering industry right now is, for us, when we’re at the peak of our careers at 35 or 40 years old, I think we will be sending people to Mars,” Endres said. “I want to change the world, and working there gave me the idea that I could be on that front line of going out and expanding the capacity of humanity.”
Bob Lyon, faculty advisor for Engineers Without Borders, has worked with Endres since he was a sophomore. He said the qualities Endres displays within their organization, such as traveling to Bolivia to help make latrines in mountain villages, make him an obvious candidate for such a prestigious internship.
“He really wants to make a difference and build a better world in whatever capacity he can,” Lyon said.
“He’s a real people person who’s a real visible member in the School of Engineering, and he’s just a real leader and a real servant, too.”
Charles Neiss, the program coordinator for the SELF program, reiterated that it shouldn’t come as a shock to see Endres working on something like Curiosity.
“He’s definitely a student who seeks out and maximizes opportunities and wants to go above and beyond the norm, so it doesn’t surprise me he sought out something unique and individual like the experience he had,” Neiss said.
Even though his internship and work on Curiosity ended in August, Endres knows it will serve him for much longer.
“It really did open up a lot of opportunities for me,” he said. “There’s internships I’ll apply for this year and my opportunity of getting them, or at least an interview, is definitely greater. It looks really good when I can write ‘NASA,’ ‘Jet Propulsion Lab’ and ‘Curiosity’ on my resume. That’s just – wow.”