College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Hanton holds executive position in a national organization

Rick HantonStudents at Iowa State quickly realize participating in the more than 700 student clubs and organizations at the university offers a chance to learn new things and meet new people. One engineering undergraduate is helping students across the globe gain similar experiences.

Rick Hanton, senior in computer engineering, is the chair of the U.S. chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS-USA). The group was founded in 1980 in response to U.S. citizens’ concerns about a lack of exploration and has been shaping America’s youth for an inventive future in space ever since. The student-based organization is made up of both U.S. and international chapters.

“We’re all about exploring and developing space. Some groups are focused on rocketry and some on astronomy,” said Hanton. “We are basically seeing what we can do to change public opinion as much as we can to encourage exploration.”

Hanton has been a member of SEDS-USA for almost five years after stumbling across the Iowa State chapter, Iowa State Space Society (ISSS), his freshman year. Coincidentally, one of the first meetings he attended was the group’s election meeting, and he was one of five people to show up. The executive members spotted the lone freshman sitting at the back and asked if he wanted to help out with the club. Hanton replied, “Sure.”

After joining ISSS, Hanton quickly became more and more interested in space travel and the engineering components behind it. Within a year, he attended the SEDS-USA National Conference. “I met a bunch of people and eventually got encouraged by former chairs to get more involved. I started working as the expansion director for SEDS-USA, and it went on from there. I took over for them as chair this past year.” Hanton said.

Hanton’s selection as chair of SEDS-USA was not simple and took him a couple years to get selected for the position. The first year he ran he was beat out by the former chair and voted expansion director for the second year in a row. The next year’s election was a success for Hanton, and he stepped in as chair in November 2010.

Being chair of a national organization, Hanton is essentially in charge of the executive board. Together, they run the organization’s day-to-day operations, making sure chapters are interacting with each other and SEDS-USA.

“The other big thing is working on the organization’s relationships with other groups, our advisors, and international SEDS groups,” explained Hanton. Part of keeping up relationships includes setting up partnerships with other groups, such as the National Space Society, the Space Frontier Foundation, and most recently the Planetary Society run by Bill Nye.

Hanton has found this particular aspect of his job isn’t always that easy. “As a student led group, it’s tricky to keep all those relationships up to date and to make sure those groups are communicating with the right people since we switch our leadership a lot,” Hanton said.

To deal with the challenges of the job, Hanton feels his past experience has prepared him tremendously. He attributes many of his leadership abilities to his involvement in ISSS and the Iowa State University Government of the Student Body, where he served as director of information technology. Participating in other activities like the yearlong planning committee for the FIRST LEGO League competition taught him valuable skills as well, such as managing all the elements involved in coordinating such a large event.

All the opportunities Hanton has had during his time at Iowa State will continue to benefit his future. He has made connections with a variety of people including several who are influential in space exploration, such as the founder of SpaceX Elon Musk as well as the creator of the X-Prize Foundation Peter Diamandis.

Hanton’s most significant encounters have occurred at the SEDS-USA National Conferences. “They have been amazing learning experiences in terms of my knowledge about the space business and community as an industry,” Hanton said. Through conversing with people at these conferences, he also realized that computer engineering was the path he wanted to take, leading him to switch his major from aerospace engineering.

Hanton is on track to graduate from Iowa State in December 2011 and at that time will step down as chair of SEDS-USA. He hopes to find work for a company in avionics for airplanes or spacecrafts. He says his dream job would be to work for a company like SpaceX that designs, builds, and flies rockets.