Graduating SD Mines Student and Iraq & Afghanistan Combat Veteran Launches Career at NASA’s Mission Control

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South Dakota School of Mines & Technology graduating senior Ryan Brown has accepted a fulltime position in Mission Control at NASA Johnson Space Center, and will soon be working to support the largest, most powerful and complex human facility to ever operate in space – the International Space Station. The fast-paced environment found in Mission Control’s operations side will allow him to tap into his experience in a different operational theater, as an eight-year U.S. Army veteran with more than six years in the Special Forces Command (Airborne) unit and combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Soon, we will have a Mines graduate sitting at the control center of the world’s only international orbiting outpost. In terms of a university’s role to place students in important and cutting-edge careers, it doesn’t get any better than that.

South Dakota School of Mines & Technology graduating senior Ryan Brown has accepted a fulltime position in Mission Control at NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC), and will soon be working to support the largest, most powerful and complex human facility to ever operate in space – the International Space Station.

Entry-level positions like Brown’s come exclusively through the highly competitive “NASA Pathways Intern” program, which serves as a talent pipeline for the space agency. Only after completing a minimum of three tours, including two semester-long co-ops and either a summer internship or third co-op experience, is one eligible for a full-time offer.

The Rapid City native’s first 15-week tour was spent interning at NASA JSC in 2012 through a $10,000 scholarship provided by the South Dakota Space Grant Consortium.

A computer engineering major, he was tasked with developing software simulation for astronauts to train for moon landings. But he and a fellow intern soon embarked on an additional project that made NASA take note: three-dimensional head tracking in simulated conditions. The project held the potential to lead to more authentic astronaut training and earned him another two tours of duty at JSC co-ops.

After graduating next Saturday, Brown will spend the next year and a half getting what he terms his “master’s in the International Space Station,” learning how to utilize communication loops, listen to multiple channels and monitor different conversations. He will be training to join Mission Control, whose storied history includes supporting every U.S. human spaceflight since 1965, including the Apollo missions that took astronauts to the moon.

Eventually, he will staff the computer console CRONUS that controls the communications systems of the International Space Station, a U.S.-led collaborative effort of 16 nations.

“These hands-on NASA experiences are extremely beneficial for students and it certainly paid off for Ryan as evidenced by his job at NASA’s Mission Control in Houston. Soon, we will have a Mines graduate sitting at the control center of the world’s only international orbiting outpost. In terms of a university’s role to place students in important and cutting-edge careers, it doesn’t get any better than that,” said Tom Durkin, deputy director of the South Dakota Space Grant Consortium housed at SD Mines.

Brown so impressed his supervisors during his previous tours at the JSC that NASA extended a second employment offer this fall to work in robotics in Mission Control. But he says the fast-paced environment found in Mission Control’s operations side will allow him to tap into his prior career skills and experience in a different operational theater, as an eight-year U.S. Army veteran with more than six years in the Special Forces Command (Airborne) unit and combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Mines is a great university for veterans,” said Heather Wilson, SD Mines president. “Ryan has taken his experience in the service combined with a degree in engineering to help him achieve his dreams.”

Brown credits much of his success to the Veteran’s Resource Center (VRC) at SD Mines. “I’ve either been a work-study student or volunteer since I started here, and it really helped me. It made a huge difference,” – a kindness he’s long since repaid. Brown was instrumental in securing a $60,000 donation from John and Cheryl Hoven to renovate the campus resource center for veterans back in 2010.

“It gave me a place to study with like-minded people who have been through the same stuff. Everyone there is taking classes as a career change from their time in service,” Brown said.

Though the sky’s the limit for most Mines students, who boast a 98 percent placement rate and early-career salaries topping $65,000, this soon-to-be graduate is making his mark in space.

Brown will join more than 100 other graduating students at the fall commencement ceremony at 9 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 20, in the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Theatre.

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About SDSM&T
Founded in 1885, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology is a science and engineering research university located in Rapid City, S.D., offering bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. The university enrolls 2,798 students from 45 states and 39 foreign countries, with a student-to-faculty ratio of 14:1. The SD School of Mines placement rate is 98 percent, with an average early career salary for graduates of $65,600, according to the 2014-2015 PayScale report. Find us online at http://www.sdsmt.edu, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/sdsmt and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sdsmt.

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