Most kids want to be something like a firefighter when they grow up, but as a child Matthew Russell always choose a decidedly different path.
“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to do something related to engineering.”
Matthew Russell, a rising-senior in Liberty University’s engineering program, is still well on his way to making those childhood dreams come true.
“My grandfather is an electrical engineer and my mom was in the STEM fields and biology for her education. They both encouraged me to explore a lot of more technical things,” notes Russell. “A lot of science things and, as I got older, it got to be a lot more engineering things.”
Russell’s parents homeschooled their children, allowing ample time for growth and exploration outside a traditional classroom setting. He soon became involved with local engineering fairs, as well as engineering open house days at the University of Kentucky. Through these experiences, Russell fell in love with the problem-solving aspect of engineering.
“Even at that point, I knew I was going to do something with engineering.”
In the fall of 2014, Russell enrolled at Liberty University and has since had several opportunities to further explore the world of engineering. So far, he’s had research intern experiences at the University of North Dakota (UND) and the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT). This summer will bring internship at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, in addition.
At UND, Russell worked with a project called OpenOrbiter. The program focuses on creating an affordable nanosatellite that can be replicated by organizations across the world.
Russell’s work on the endeavor laid a conceptual base-layer for one of the spacecraft’s subsystems. He explored the possibility of programming the satellite to self-learn and refine its movements. This form of artificial intelligence would remove the need for software updates over time.
The following summer, Russell interned with the Center for Cyberspace Research (CCR) at AFIT. Through this opportunity, he gained access to state-of-the-art technology and the chance to explore CCR-related topics with which he was curious. Russell specifically invested himself in software projects regarding cyber security.
Now, Russell is on to an internship at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. According to Russell, it’s an amazing opportunity that gives him a glimpse into what he hopes his future might look like one day.
“(My dream path) ties into what I’m doing this summer. I have been very interested in getting an engineering job at NASA,” says Russell. “I’m excited about this summer because I think it will give me the chance to see if that’s really what I want to do and if it’s all I thought it’s going to be.”
Other plans for the future could include a PhD and eventual professorship at a university, having a career in robotics, or even starting his own company.
However, Russell is confident it’s not by skill alone that he’s made it this far. His opportunities have often come through connections and chance meetings. In his mind, it’s not just all a coincidence, but there’s a larger entity at work in his life.
“You can’t explain it other than God had his hand on (my life) in some way,” says Russell.
In the midst of schoolwork and other worries, it’s this faith that keeps him going. According to Russell, it’s all about “seeing what God has for me right now and being obedient in that.”
“(I’m) just hoping now that I’m going to be making good use of the opportunity in some way,” remarked Russell. “Not only for my own benefit as much, but seeing where these things can take me and what kind of impact that it can have for Christ in different areas.”