Alumni in Aerospace
Published June 13, 2019
After graduating from Southwest Christian in 2012, Shane Dirks knew he was interested in pursing a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics), specifically physics and engineering. However, there was a wide variety of career paths on the table. Dirks attended Bethel University and majored in physics, knowing that this would allow him to experience college at a school that would foster his continued growth academically and spiritually. “I knew a physics degree would prepare me for graduate programs in any engineering discipline, allowing me to delay the final decision another few years,” said Dirks.
After completing his undergraduate degree, he performed medical physics research for a year at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. While he thought the work was interesting, he realized the health care field wasn’t the path he wanted to purse. He began researching other opportunities and was immediately drawn to the explosive growth in the world of private space industries. He applied to a number of aerospace engineering graduate programs and was accepted at Stanford University. Shane admitted that diving into a graduate program, in a brand new discipline, at a school like Stanford has been challenging but incredibly rewarding. “I had never taken any courses in any of the core disciplines of structures, fluids, or controls,” he explained. “Luckily both Bethel and SWCHS focused as much on teaching me how to learn as they did on the specifics of what I was learning.”
Shane has studied everything from the inner workings of turbine engines to the planning of interplanetary missions while at Stanford. He even had the opportunity to work with some of his classmates to design, build, and test a small liquid bi-propellant rocket engine that flew above 50,000 feet this past spring! As he wraps up his time at Stanford, he has been applying for positions at a number of different companies throughout the industry, primarily focusing on orbital dynamics/mission planning roles. “The idea that I could soon be working on projects that reach to the moon, Mars, or beyond is exhilarating,” said Dirks. “As I look back on the path that God led me on to get me to where I am today, I am confident that he has exciting things planned for me as I enter the workforce.”
Shane isn’t the only Dirks member who has a love for aerospace. His father, Alan, is an experienced, retired pilot. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) recognizes there will be an upcoming shortage in aircraft pilots and is looking to remedy that by pairing qualified pilots with high school students along with providing curriculum to schools interested in encouraging this facet in their science programs. Mr. Alan Dirks is spearheading these efforts alongside the SWCHS science department starting this fall, ensuring our students gain valuable experience and are exposed to the joy of flying. He will be working with Mr. Peter Flint, incorporating this curriculum into sophomore physical science to begin developing courses aimed at preparing the next generation of airline pilots.