When Erik Daehler ’98, Vice President of Orbital Systems at Sierra Space and former Lockheed Martin executive, graduated from Colorado College with a degree in physics, he knew he had received a phenomenal education, but he struggled to find a job immediately upon graduating.
Daehler was confident that CC had the ability to prepare its students to enter the engineering field immediately upon graduating; they just needed someone to teach it. In 2014, Daehler approached the Physics Department about teaching Investigations in Engineering: Preparing for a Career in Space Half Block. The department agreed and Daehler began teaching the course every four years, giving every class the opportunity to take it. The result? Several students have been hired or offered paid internships in the space industry.
This includes Kalie Chang ’26, who took the Half Block class with Daehler in January of this year and is now working as a paid intern at Lockheed Martin for the summer. Chang has wanted to intern at Lockheed Martin since high school and had applied to the program several times. She feels that Daehler’s class prepared her to be accepted into the program this year.
Daehler designed the class to give students as much real-world experience as possible, often using simulations to give students an idea of what their future jobs could be.
In this year’s class, Sophia Gaal ’25, llene Kruger ’25, Heeyeal Lee ’26, and Chang represented a mock satellite company, where the students created a business case for an imaginary customer based on their requirements, which included satellites that can monitor the outputs of CO2 and methane gas in well flares across the world by 2027.
“My team and I created a wooden satellite system that differentiated us from the competition, was within budget, risk mitigated, profitable, and environmentally friendly,” says Chang, a computer science and economics double major.
For the course’s final, students presented their idea to a panel of people working for the target company, which was represented by engineers, CC alumni in the space industry, and Daehler.
“I find that I learn best from hands on experience, so simulating the proposal process of a new space company through this course was really helpful for me to effectively understand business capture within the space industry and apply it to my internship at Lockheed Martin,” says Chang.
Logan Henning ’22 took Daehler’s class as a student in 2019 and returned to CC to co-teach the class this year. Henning was hired by Daehler and now works as a systems engineer in orbital systems and services at Sierra Space.
“I didn’t even know it at the time, but that class is structured exactly how engineering in aerospace really is,” says Henning, a physics major. “I just went through my first proposal sprint with Sierra Space, and it was almost exactly like the Half Block class. That class was one of the hardest times I’ve ever worked, but it didn’t always feel like work. It’s one of those instances where you just want to learn as much as you can because you genuinely enjoy it as opposed to learning for an exam.”
The class focuses on all aspects of the field, including chemical, biomedical, and civil engineering.
“All engineering is problem solving,” says Daehler. “Liberal arts students bring a unique, creative approach to problem solving. One team designed an all-wood satellite to reduce the impact of re-entering satellites on the ozone layer. This kind of thinking is what we need for the next generation of engineers working and living on our space stations.”
“Going into CC, I knew that I wanted a career in the defense industry,” says Chang. “When I took this class in January, I was able to explore that career path through a systems engineering standpoint and learn more about the space industry, which I never would have gotten through any other class at CC.”
Daehler also focused on other parts of the job application process, including conducting mock interviews with students, reviewing their resumes, and having them create LinkedIns.
“Despite having no engineering background, CC equipped me with unique skills and perspectives that have been invaluable to my success,” says Olivia Rask ’21, who now works as a project engineer at Lockheed Martin Space. “A liberal arts education prepares students to be future leaders in the space industry by cultivating crucial skills, such as, critical thinking, problem-solving, effective communication, and ethical and social responsibility. These qualities are essential for successfully leading teams, making informed decisions, and addressing the challenges and opportunities inherent to the ever-changing space field.”
Daehler became Rask’s mentor during her junior year, and helped her apply, interview, and ultimately land a job at Lockheed Martin Space.
Rask was a guest speaker in this year’s Half Block course, where she taught students how to transition from CC to working in the space industry. Rask, a political science and history major, helped students strategically incorporate contract fundamentals into their proposals during the simulation.
Before meeting Daehler, Rask believed that one had to have a B.S. or M.S. in aerospace engineering to get an entry-level space position. “Thankfully, Erik helped me understand that’s not only wrong but that, actually, CC sets students up perfectly to take on careers in space.”