“This will be a significant adjustment for you,” my English professor declared to his students on my first day of college classes. “You have gone from a high school system where you learn from teachers, to now being responsible to teach yourselves.” He was attempting to help his class grasp the reality of changing learning styles between a typical high school setting and a college one. Hearing him say this caused me to realize another benefit of my thirteen years of homeschooling – learning to teach myself.

Now, I am not saying that my home education was a self-endeavor – it was far from that! My parents put countless hours of effort into educating my brothers and me, but during the later years of schooling, they made it clear to me that learning was my responsibility. They were there to help, but I was to take ownership of my education. Their approach helped prepare me for higher education, and later, a career as a NASA engineer!

Possibly my favorite benefit of being homeschooled was the chance to take family trips during the normal school season. This was a chance to experience and learn new things, without all the crowds, of course! We would start the school year several weeks early, then head off on an adventure in late September or so.

It was some of these trips that fostered my interest in flight and flight vehicles. I enjoyed visits to Kitty Hawk, where the Wright Brothers famously took to the air in flight for the first time, and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, where man first left earth, bound for the moon. I fondly recall exploring the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., where I was able to see up close, iconic aircraft and spacecraft like the Lockheed SR-71 and the retired space shuttle Discovery.

As a young person, I dreamed of becoming a pilot, but as I neared the time when I would choose a college, my interests led me to pursue an education in aerospace engineering. This was undoubtedly impacted by my exposure to mathematics and science thanks to my Dad, an engineer. Two years of completing basic college engineering classes at a community college provided me with an Associate’s Degree and scholarships which helped me afford attending the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), where I enrolled in an Aerospace Engineering Program.

My decision to attend RIT was impacted in part by the university’s co-op program, which required a year of work experience (through internships and co-ops) prior to graduating. It was through these work experiences that the Lord prepared me for a career at NASA. When the time came for me to secure my first co-op, I focused on finding a position involved with atmospheric flight (passenger jets, etc.). However, the Lord closed most doors and provided a position where I worked on a satellite program.

When it came time for my second co-op, I continued to seek after positions with aircraft manufacturing companies, and once again, the Lord provided something different. On a day I had an interview scheduled with one such company, I was informed that the funding for the position had been revoked, and they were no longer hiring. I did not need to wonder long how the Lord would use this. Within a week, I received an invitation to intern for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama!

There, I was able to work on various projects involving the thermal projection of spacecraft and satellites. From prior to launch, through the heat of ascent, to the bitter cold of deep space, there are many thermal challenges to overcome when going to space. I enjoyed this internship immensely, so much so, that I abandoned the idea of working in the commercial aircraft industry. After graduating, I was given the chance to work full-time with the group I interned with – an opportunity I happily accepted! I now have the privilege of working on NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), which will be the vehicle to lift crew and cargo on future deep space missions, including a proposed manned mission to Mars!

To play a role in the exploration of God’s limitless creation is exciting and something I am very thankful for. For any successful space mission, there is a detailed plan, from pre-launch to splash down. Similarly, the Lord has a plan for every believer! I am thankful for the family He gave me, and for how He used my experience as a homeschooler to prepare me for today. The future of space exploration is bright and full of opportunities to learn more about the handiwork of our God. Maybe you or your child will play an important role!

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. – Psalm 19:1

Copyright 2018, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Winter 2018/2019 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.

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Stephen Wess

Stephen and his wife Megan reside in North Alabama, where Stephen works as an engineer for NASA. His work includes the thermal design and analysis of spacecraft and launch vehicles, such as NASA's Space Launch System (SLS). In their spare time, Stephen and Megan enjoy exploring North America via overlanding and finding adventure in the remote areas of God's creation.