Co-ops at NASA set engineering student on new trajectory

08/01/2011

Each year, many University of Akron students take advantage of internships, co-ops and study trips that enhance what they're learning in the classroom. Over the next several weeks, we’ll feature some of these students and the unique opportunities they have for hands-on learning this summer.

This week we’re featuring Samantha Bittinger, a mechanical engineering major who has spent a good part of her UA career interning at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

At her computer at NASA Glenn Research Center, Samantha Bittinger views modal results in Patran for a shear panel within the Orion spacecraft's service module.


A love of roller coasters — that's what brought Samantha Bittinger to The University of Akron.

"I majored in mechanical engineering because I’ve always loved roller coasters and I wanted to learn how to design them," says Bittinger, a senior honors student who plans to graduate in May 2012.

Instead, she's now focused on a different kind of ride — one that hurtles much faster and farther through space than any roller coaster.

Range of experiences

Thanks to the College of Engineering’s Cooperative Education Program, Bittinger is in the midst of her fourth co-op assignment with NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. Although she's rotated among different teams during her co-op experiences, her time has been devoted to one project — the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, which is part of the next generation of human spacecraft.

Learn more

You can visit the College of Engineering’s Cooperative Education Program online.

"Everyone knows NASA — we all grew up with it — but I never thought I would be chosen to work for NASA," says Bittinger. "It's been a great experience. The people are great and the projects are great. Most importantly, I'm working on the human spaceflight program."

During this latest co-op rotation, Bittinger is using computer software to perform vibro-acoustic analysis on components within the spacecraft to determine how high sound levels could affect them during launch ascent.

Integral part of the team

"As a launch vehicle ascends after liftoff, the sound produced by the rocket can reach up to 160 decibels, which can excite structural modes of the fragile spacecraft sections," explains Bittinger. "Components could fall apart from the pressure of that sound and you have to account for it."

For Bittinger, the hands-on experience gained through her co-op rotations has enhanced what she's learned in her classes.

"You learn to think like an engineer and problem solve," she says. "Then, when you are back in class, you have a better understanding for what you are learning, why it is so important and how it can be applied. That's what's really invaluable about a co-op."

As for the future?

"Contrary to popular belief, the retirement of the Space Shuttle is not the end of NASA – we're working diligently on Orion and many other great projects to put astronauts back in space. I hope to work for NASA full time after I graduate. I'm thinking about grad school, too.

"But, I would still like to design roller coasters someday," Bittinger adds with a smile.

Also in this series:

Bliss Institute internships open doors to world of politics