Drew Johnson: Northwest Nazarene University
05 Jul 2017
What drew you to a STEM major in college?
One of the main things that interests me about STEM is the variety and uniqueness of work that is encompassed. STEM covers so many integral aspects of our lives that every person is working on something different by some degree. I have worked on several different STEM research projects at Northwest Nazarene University and every one of them required a new set of tools and a new perspective. It really keeps you on your toes!
What type of extracurricular STEM experiences have you had in college?
My freshman year I signed up for one of our NASA research programs, without really expecting to get accepted. Lo and behold, I was brought on as a data analyst working somewhat in the background of NASA. However, this opened doors for me, and I worked as a mechanical systems lead for another NASA research project my sophomore year, and then led a team of engineering students working NASA's JPL on another project my junior year.
What kind of skills have you learned by working on these projects?
The greatest skill I learned from working inside these projects would definitely have to be how to troubleshoot. Many times—in fact nearly every time—when you try and implement a system or an idea, something goes wrong. That is the nature of STEM. It takes a special kind of person to analyze the system and try and decipher the root of the error. The more troubleshooting you're actively involved in, the easier it is to avoid errors in the future. My favorite part of STEM involves the various rewards that come with these projects. The three NASA projects I worked on involved designing payloads for testing in sounding rockets. Our end goal was a student designed, fabricated, and tested payload. The feeling of starting with some concept and moving through the design process to create a physical, tangible system that behaves how you planned is immensely gratifying. Also, when our payload was launched into space we got to watch the launch live on site, and it was so exhilarating! To know that something you worked on for nine plus months is flying into space, there's really nothing like it.
How will STEM education influence your life after college?
STEM has given me the knowledge to tackle a project that I may only know a little bit about and learn the rest along the way. This makes for a very versatile and diverse skill set. As I apply for graduate programs or career positions, I feel very confident moving through the process because of the skills I've developed. STEM also gives you a wicked cool outlook on life, as you understand how objects surrounding us behave and interact. It's a beautiful feeling.
What advice would you give to high school students who are interested in STEM?
The biggest piece of advice would have to be to persevere through the hard parts. Many people don’t talk about the challenging aspects of STEM, but what’s important to remember is that STEM can be wonderfully rewarding and exciting. If you can stick it out through the tough times, you'll be that much better for it. Also, take advantage of as many opportunities as possible to grow your skill set. Every new project or adventure you take on will force you to think in a new perspective and maybe put you a little outside of your comfort zone. But you'll gain new skills and ideas to help you in the future.