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Becoming an Aerospace Pioneer with the HLP

Written by Christopher Busic

Before my senior year of high school, I set out with a vision in mind to be a significant contributor towards pioneering a space-based economy by pursuing a degree in aerospace engineering. It seemed to be the perfect pairing of my childhood passion for visiting the Johnson Space Center with my desire to solve the most challenging problems facing humanity. However, with such an ambitious vision came many questions, the most important being, “What college can help advance me towards achieving this dream?”

With this in mind, I decided to attend the University of Tennessee. The diverse and extensive research projects conducted here were what first caught my eye. I saw them as a way for me to further my academic knowledge through hands-on experience. Additionally, I would have the honor of being in the first graduating class of the Honors Leadership Program (HLP), which I saw as an amazing resource to further hone the myriad of skills necessary to be a pioneer in my industry. Reflecting on this decision, I can already say with confidence that it was the greatest choice I made in high-school. Due to all of the opportunities that HLP has provided me and how it has helped shape me as a leader, I have not only challenged myself in my field but developed skills and a support system that will help me achieve my goals.

Attending school such a long way from home at first seemed intimidating, but any anxiety vanished when I was first introduced to the forty-nine other HLP students I would be living, learning, and growing with for the next four years. I was instantly surrounded by other determined, intelligent individuals, that each had a vision to transform the world around us, which helped intensify my own desire to accomplish the goals I had set for myself. With all initial feelings of anxiety vanquished from my mind, I was incredibly eager to begin the academic semester and learn as much information as I possibly could. To accompany traditional mathematics and physics courses associated with engineering, my first semester also included a leadership studies course meant to improve my leadership skills on a foundational level. I found the content within this course to be extremely applicable to situations that occurred in my everyday life, whether they were in the classroom, at club meetings or when I was working amongst the individuals on my NASA competition teams. Overall, this knowledge greatly improved my ability to succeed in my first semester.

While HLP has provided me with new friends and informative content for me to build my leadership skills upon, I believe the connections I have made through the program are what have benefitted me the most. With the help of on-campus networking that originated from HLP, I was given an opportunity unlike any I have ever had before– the chance to work as an undergraduate research assistant. For the past four months, I have had the incredible opportunity to help research the practicality of mining asteroids for their economically valuable resources, which include commodities such as water, volatile gases and precious metals. This research is only part of a more expansive project that is currently underway by the company Deep Space Industries, as they seek to transform the idea of asteroid mining from science fiction to reality. The position I hold has been the most intellectually strenuous activity I have ever partaken in, however; the new challenges the research presents every day make it so enticing that I never want to stop. It is an understatement to say that participating in this research project is a dream come true, and it was through the assistance of the HLP that I have had the opportunity to grow as an individual, while also pursuing my passion of aerospace technologies.

Already the skills I have acquired through HLP, combined with the incredible research and academic opportunities offered to me at UTK, have propelled me closer to manifesting my dreams into a reality. If six months ago you would have told me that I would be in the position I am in today, I would not have been able to comprehend it. Yet, it is a dream come true, as new friends and mentors have collectively helped blaze the trail I walk upon today. It leaves me eager to see what other knowledge and opportunities lay waiting for me in the years to come.