Giant leap toward NASA career for Marian grad
Christopher Dobbins, a 2009 Marian Central Catholic High School graduate, aims to secure a career with NASA upon graduation from University of Michigan.
The 21-year-old said his fascination with space exploration began in childhood.
His interest began in grade school after participating in space summer camps and completing a space unit of study with a visit to the Woodstock Challenger Learning Center for Science & Technology with his fifth grade teacher and classmates.
He said he enjoyed learning about Apollo 13 and studying units on space in general.
“I got hooked,” he said. “I thought space exploration was really neat.”
He loved visiting the Challenger Center so much, he volunteered his sophomore and junior years of high school.
He said volunteering only made him more interested and inspired to pursue a space-related career.
Currently, Dobbins is in his senior year as an aerospace engineering student at University of Michigan.
He also is currently enrolled in a co-op internship program based out of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
“They don’t take [students] straight out of high school,” Dobbins said. “You have to work in the program while in college [and] there is a high turnover rate.”
To graduate from the program, he must complete two semesters and four summers at NASA, which he said has pushed his graduation date from the University of Michigan back a little.
However, he doesn’t mind because of the opportunity he has been given and is excited about what awaits him after graduation.
While enrolled in the internship, he participates in mission control activities, which he said includes focusing on mission control for the international space station, learning about life support systems, flight controllers, classroom simulations and learning scenarios.
“It takes two to four years to [complete basic] training,” he said.
After graduation, an additional two years of training will be required for his first goal of becoming an Environmental and Thermal Operating Systems operator.
An ETHOS operator is the first level of mission control flight controllers. After subsequent training, he has plans to move on to a flight director position – the individual in control of an entire space mission. Becoming a flight director could take up to 20 years, but Dobbins is ready for the challenge. He occasionally returns to the Challenger Center to volunteer when he has time available and loves watching the students at work.
“Kids don’t really realize they are learning and having a good time,” he said. “I enjoy watching that happen.”
What advice does Dobbins have for aspiring young space explorers?
“High school students may not see the point to studying math and science, but years later, they will see how those subject areas helped them attain their goals,” he said.
For students who enjoy math and science, he offered additional advice.
“There are [so many] neat things you can do with any math, science and engineering degree,” he said. “If you like math and science, pursue those [subjects] because there are a ton of opportunities to do different things.”