College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

ISU astronaut alumnus teaches aerospace freshman importance of industry and persistence

Clayton Anderson (right), ISU alumnus and astronaut, guest lectures aerospace freshman.
Clayton Anderson (right), ISU alumnus and astronaut, guest lectures aerospace freshman.

In the aerospace engineering department’s Next Generation interactive classroom, astronaut and former Iowa State University student, Clayton Anderson guest lectured the next generation of aerospace freshman on the importance of knowing their industry. Specifically, who the heavy hitters are, what type of spacecraft designs are currently being developed, and where students can find employment in the future. Anderson also emphasized the value of learning from their mistakes, and pursuing their passions.

“I didn’t think about industry when I was a student,” said Anderson. “It’s so important for kids these days to think about their career early. They need to know who the key players are, and how to get them to take notice.”

Anderson went on to say how vital internships and co-op experiences are to students.

“Any opportunity the students can have to get their hands dirty and figure out their passion is vital,” Anderson said.

In the NextGen classroom, the freshman students watched videos of test launches while Anderson narrated.  After each launch, Anderson asked the students to take a critical look at the footage and determine what went smoothly, and what could be improved upon.

“This is what engineering is. You want to do it right the first time, but that is awfully difficult.  You have to learn from your mistakes,” Anderson said.

The ability to learn from his experiences and pursue his passion is what Anderson credits to his career success.

Anderson graduated from Hastings College in Nebraska with a degree in physics. He then went on to complete his masters in aerospace engineering from Iowa State University in 1983.  He joined the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston shortly after graduating, where he worked in the missions planning and analysis division. His dream was to go on a NASA mission into space, and in 2007 Anderson saw that dream come to fruition. In January of 2013, Anderson retired from NASA and now gives talks to student engineers hoping to give them insights from his own experience.

“I hope it means something to the students that someone from Iowa State University – someone who walked on their campus – was able to go into space and pursue their passion,” Anderson said. “It took me 15 years to become an astronaut, but I was eventually rewarded for my perseverance. The lesson I’ve learned from my career is to never give up. I hope the students take that as my main message.”