College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Hands-on research experience sets course for aerospace career

Andy Hammer and Kristin Rozier examine a small drone airplane
Andy Hammer, senior in aerospace engineering and Kristin-Yvonne Rozier, Building a World of Difference Faculty Fellow and associate professor in aerospace engineering

Andy Hammer, senior in aerospace engineering, reached out right away in their first year to Kristin-Yvonne Rozier, Building a World of Difference Faculty Fellow and associate professor in aerospace engineering, about getting hands-on research experience in Rozier’s lab.

“During my first semester at Iowa State, gaining experience early in my field was impressed heavily upon me by the honors department and upperclassmen. Trying my hand at research was a great way to integrate myself into both aerospace and computer science to develop skills that intersected both those fields. Doing so has allowed me to develop a breadth of experiences in both industry and academia,” said Hammer.

Three years later and not only is Hammer an experienced undergraduate research student in Rozier’s lab, now they are working on an independent project with Rozier’s mentorship – setting Hammer on the path to an exciting future career in aerospace engineering research.

Perseverance and creativity in the lab

Hammer said that research solidified their passion for controls and systems engineering, along with helping improve their problem analysis skills, solution development, and ability to understand whether a solution works or not.

“Being able to work the same problem over and over when there is no clear solution is an incredibly important trait that is heavily desired by researchers and organizations, and it’s one that I am glad to have learned, both for my professional life and my personal life,” said Hammer.

Hammer said that one of the most challenging, but valuable, parts of undergraduate research is running into dead ends.

“So much of research is attempting solutions again and again until you find one that not only works, but works well,” said Hammer.

Research experience on campus and off

Hammer said their undergraduate research experiences have taught that engineering perseverance is something companies and organizations look for, in addition to understanding class material.

Hammer attributes the opportunity of several of their off-campus career experiences to the research they have done in Rozier’s lab. Hammer has done full-time research on uncrewed aerial vehicles traffic manager implementation in the summer of 2020 and an internship with NASA’s Ames Research Center to analyze flight software from software engineers during the summer of 2021.

The current research project Hammer is working on with Rozier, called Assume-Guarantee Contract Theory, is about expanding an algorithm that finds dependencies in a system so it can exploit write requirements (or A/G contacts) for UAV.

“I referred to Andy as my ‘freshman masquerading as a graduate student.’ They arrived at our meetings every week with a solid agenda and more accomplishments than some of my graduate students. And they are passionate and self-motivated, combining their domain knowledge with creativity to investigate and present novel solutions whenever they encounter something they have not seen before,” said Rozier.

Hammer’s research has been funded by grants from NASA and a Boeing Undergraduate Research Fellowship. Through this relationship with Boeing, Hammer was connected with Boeing engineering as a technical advisor.

Launching a career

After completing an undergraduate degree, Hammer plans to earn a Ph.D. in computer science and work for the Langley Formal Methods Unit at the Langley NASA Center in Virginia.

“While working at NASA is a common dream for many aerospace engineers, I was able to do so under the tutelage of Dr. Rozier. She provided me with the experience and skill necessary to work at NASA and continue to help me cultivate my research skills, particularly in formal methods. Dr. Rozier has been an amazing mentor at Iowa State and has provided me an incredible experience at ISU,” said Hammer.