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NASA employee speaks to students during National Engineers Week
Joshua Knopp / Staff Writer
NASA engineer Kevin Tones discussed how to get a job and the future of NASA as a part of National Engineers Week at Discovery Park on Thursday.
Tones, who has worked at the Johnson Space Center in Houston for more than 20 years, described his hiring path as a matter of being persistent.
“I took the ‘pester people like hell until they give you a job’ route,” he said. “Which I do not recommend.”
Tones said a distinguishing factor of working for NASA was the rate of work. While other engineers and electronics designers have fairly rapid timetables, space station engineers have to take more time testing everything because people’s lives are at risk.
“If your cell phone runs out … it’s an annoyance,” he said. “Our stuff, if it doesn’t work, someone’s dead. D-e-a-d. Gone. And that gets your attention real fast. You’re a little more methodic, a little more cautious.”
Discovery Park’s director of campus life Lisa Campbell arranged for Tones to come on campus through old college connections.
“His wife and I went to college together. Completely different fields,” she said. “I met them and discovered that he worked for NASA and was an engineer. I’ve had many engineering students ask me if we could get someone from NASA and it seemed like the thing to do.”
Campbell also said Tones fits in with Discovery Park’s robotics week.
“I thought it would be a good time to tie everything together,” she said.
In his speech, Tones also talked about NASA’s recent budget cuts. Two years ago, NASA received $648 million less than the previous year, according to universetoday.com, and further cuts are expected.
Tones said that the main problem is NASA isn’t getting instructions, because an official budget also comes with instructions on how to spend the money.
“We’ve been on continuing resolutions for an insane amount of time,” he said. “If the government doesn’t set a budget, we don’t even have a target. Basically, they write us checks, and we see how big that check is and we see what we can do with that check.”
A budget would give NASA more direction, Tones said.
“But with the budget, we get priorities. We get a better idea of what does a nation want to do with its time and money and resources,” he said. “We’re a lot better off, even if there’s less overall money.”
Engineering senior Emma Zemler, who has a co-op with the Johnson Space Center, was at the speech. Zemler said a co-op is a step between an internship and a formal job.
“A co-op is essentially multiple internships,” she said. “You alternate school with work at that company.”
Zemler has worked on multiple projects, including prototype mission control software and batter testing.
Tones said going the co-op route was the best way to get a job at NASA, but because of NASA’s financial troubles, students may want experience elsewhere.
“Go get work experience. It’s out there, take it,” he said. “When we have more of our fecal matter collected, come back to us.”