HCC alum soaring high at NASA

August 18, 2016

A Heartland Hawk has landed at NASA.

HCC alum Mihir Patel spent his summer as an intern at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA-JPL) in Pasadena, CA. According to him, it was quite the experience.

He worked in the Earth Sciences division using UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) to monitor the health of vegetation. After collecting imagery, he analyzed the data to figure out the amount of water and nutrients present in crops.

It’s a great demonstration of what you can do with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Mihir Patel poses at his desk at NASA-JPLPatel’s Path to NASA

Patel is quite familiar with STEM. He graduated from HCC in May 2013 with an AS in Engineering Sciences and went on to earn a BS in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Illinois in 2016.

He’s also no stranger to hard work. During his time at HCC, he served as the student trustee, went on two alternative spring break trips and was a founding member of TEDxHeartlandCommunityCollege, the first TED event in the Bloomington-Normal community. In 2013, Patel received the Jack Kent Cooke undergraduate transfer scholarship, a prestigious award that recognizes community colleges’ best students and helps them financially to complete their bachelor’s degree at the nation’s top schools.

While at the University of Illinois, Patel was part of a team that designed a space mission project for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). His group proposed a low cost precursor mission for NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission. Specifically, their spacecraft aimed to reduce the risk of future asteroid missions. They received third place for their work in AIAA’s national competition.

On top of all that, he continues to volunteer during alternative spring breaks and once again received the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship, this time for graduate school in the fall.

An Amazing 8 to 5 Work Day

There’s a lot happening for Patel, including his internship at NASA-JPL, the leading U.S. center for robotic space and Earth science missions. Although he described his job as an “ordinary 8 to 5 work day,” he called the experience “amazing.”

“I got to work with cutting-edge technology and with some of the brightest people in the country,” Patel said. “The work they do at NASA is truly inspiring.”

Through his internship experience, Patel was able to learn and experience real world, problem-solving techniques. “Solving engineering problems in homework is a lot different than actual engineering issues. The important aspect of a research internship is that you take the next step based on the outcome of your previous step.”

He goes on to say that there is no set answer to any of the problems he encounters. “I try numerous things to reach a satisfactory solution. It’s the process that makes me experienced and helps things go smoother the next time around.”

It’s just like what Thomas Edison said, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Do the Impossible

Trying to tackle problems in any career can be intimidating to people, especially when there is no clear answer. Patel’s advice is to tackle them anyway. “Do things that intimidate you. I’ve learned that even attempting to complete a task you thought would be impossible gives you great satisfaction.”

He also added that HCC students should take advantage of opportunities. “There are so many out there. You have to look for them and grab them as soon as you see one. If you miss it, set your sight on the next one. It will arrive sooner or later.”

For Patel, his next opportunity is grad school at the University of Illinois. He doesn’t quite know what he wants to do when finished, but would welcome the opportunity to work as a research engineer at any of the NASA centers.

Learn More

HCC engineering students are well prepared for successful careers. Get more information about our egineering program.

Written by: Becky Gropp