Anna Christiansen: "Mines offers students the opportunity to engage with their course material through relevant and actionable projects."
Colorado Springs, CO
Why did you choose to come to Mines? What have you enjoyed most about being here?
I was drawn to Mines for a variety of reasons. The school's reputation for providing rigorous academic and research opportunities to its students was a major factor in my decision to attend. I knew that if I took a proactive role in my education and sought opportunities for involvement, I would be rewarded with a world-class education in mechanical engineering and a variety of job prospects once I was ready to enter the professional world. Additionally, the school's small size and prevalence of tight-knit communities was a compelling feature. I was fortunate to be awarded the Harvey Scholarship upon admission to Mines, and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities in which I have been able to partake through that program. Prioritizing service through the "Pay It Forward" mindset allows me to stay grounded and contribute positively to my community, even when school may be overwhelming or chaotic.
Mines offers students the opportunity to engage with their course material through relevant and actionable projects. Faculty members clearly prioritize the tenets of engineering teamwork and collaboration, and this is reflected throughout the curriculum. Students are encouraged to take part in advanced research opportunities facilitated by these same faculty members, which further adds to a student's ability to enhance their educational experience. I've greatly benefitted from my undergraduate research experience, and it's in no small part due to the professors I was privileged enough to work with in the process.
Tell us about something you're working on right now that you find exciting, fulfilling or challenging?
I'm currently working with the CU Boulder Sounding Rocketry Lab to build a vehicle capable of reaching the internationally-accepted boundary of space--the Karman line, at 100km in altitude. This project is the culmination of years of work from over 100 students to develop custom solid rocket motors and propellant mixtures, custom composite manufacturing techniques, advanced avionics design, thermal protection design and a general strong understanding of rocket design and construction.
Have you done an internship or co-op or been in a professional job while at Mines? Tell us who you worked for and what you were doing. What stands out?
In fall 2020 and summer 2021, I had the privilege of interning at SpaceX working on battery systems for the Starlink satellite constellation. I worked primarily in the fields of test engineering, flight software engineering and satellite operations. During my internship, I had the opportunity to interface with numerous engineers, buyers and executives as I worked through projects to create a measurable impact on the company's progress towards the creation and sustenance of a global satellite fleet.
One of the most valuable aspects of my internship was the responsibility I was given. Even as an intern, I was given ownership of high-criticality projects that had significant program impacts. While initially daunting, I quickly realized the freedom this afforded me in learning to independently pursue solutions to difficult problems, and seek support from those around me. I was able to form interdisciplinary relationships that informed key aspects of my design decisions and ultimately led to the creation of a better end product.
The thing that stood out to me most about SpaceX's work culture was their collective insatiable curiosity. Regardless of your position--from entry-level engineer to program director--employees were constantly asking each other questions about each other's projects. There truly was no such thing as a dumb question; people asked employees from vastly different disciplines the "dumb" questions of their work all the time in an effort to learn. It was an incredibly empowering environment to be in, especially as an intern, as employees made it abundantly clear that instead of being penalized for a lack of knowledge, I would be encouraged and taught. This was a vastly different experience than those I'd had at other aerospace engineering firms, where knowledge-seeking questions were taboo and someone's perceived correctness was directly correlated with their seniority in the org chart.
What communities, groups or organizations—on- and off-campus—are important to you and why?
Throughout my time at Mines, I've experienced numerous academic, career and personal changes. I've been incredibly fortunate to be a part of welcoming communities like the Harvey Scholars for support and friendship. In addition to being able to spend time with fascinating people with similar ambitions and desire to learn, I've been able to participate in service activities that help me stay grounded and contribute to the local community.
Additionally, I've found stellar experiences through my involvement with the CU Boulder Sounding Rocket Laboratory, where I've been able to lead multiple projects and serve as a team captain. Through this organization, I've been able to learn how to learn quickly and apply my newfound knowledge to solve engineering problems on a rapid timeline, iterating designs and processes until satisfactory and successful. I've learned critical lessons about leadership and team membership that I wouldn't have learned anywhere else, and I've met some of the most hardworking and inspiring people I've ever known.
What are your plans for the future? What's your dream job?
After graduating in December 2021, I plan to return to SpaceX. Eventually, I intend to pursue graduate studies in aerospace engineering and medicine. Ultimately, I plan to pursue a career in bioastronautics, at the intersection of biomedical and aerospace engineering, to facilitate humanity's existence as a multi-planetary species, improving life on other planets and Earth. I'm motivated by the fact that extraterrestrial exploration endeavors often result in technologies that can be applied in world-changing positive ways on Earth, and I'm optimistic that humans will develop new tools in the near future to both preserve Earth and expand our horizons to other worlds. I hope that new exploratory capabilities will offer humans the chance to reflect on the Earth's current path, and come together to ensure its prosperity for future generations.
What would you tell someone interested in joining your academic program or Mines in general?
The biggest advantage you can give yourself when entering any degree program, research program, internship or job is not a specific set of skills or a secret technique. It's learning to ask questions. The smart ones. The dumb ones. All of them, because that's how you will learn most effectively.
Be involved in activities and projects that allow you to further develop and apply your skills. When you go into industry, if that's your plan, employers are going to be interested in how you applied your skills. Prove to them that you know what you're doing. Prove that you can learn. Demonstrate skills in leadership, communication and organization. Show them your proficiency in software or techniques through your work.
What's your favorite thing to do outside of class and coursework? How do you unwind, manage stress, find fulfillment, etc.?
Outside of class, I enjoy spending time in the great Colorado outdoors! I love running, hiking, camping and anything that gets me outside. I also love cooking and am always eager for a good meal!
I find great fulfillment in my work with the CU Boulder Sounding Rocket Lab and Harvey Scholarship, where I've been able to mentor students and help them prepare for a career.
Tell us something about you that most people would be surprised to learn?
I love, love, love Kale!