David Tucker's internship in the composite model development section at NASA Langley included him building a pair of almost 7-foot tall rockets to celebrate the moon landing 50 years ago.
David Tucker, a resident of Hampton Roads for 15 years, lives just 10 minutes from NASA Langley. As for working at the research center, he thought he might as well have been living on the moon. But as he prepares for his second internship with NASA, a career there is a real possibility.
“I would have never thought in my mid-30s getting (an) associate degree that that would get you into things like this. I just didn’t,” he said. “I thought you would need an aeronautical degree from a big university to work at a place like NASA.”
Like so many at Thomas Nelson, Tucker is a non-traditional student on a non-traditional path. He’s 37, single and has spent two decades in the food-service industry.
“I just wanted to do more,” he said, but wasn’t sure what that was. “If I ever knew what I wanted to do, I’d be doing that right now.”
Tucker enrolled at Thomas Nelson in fall 2017 aiming to earn an associate degree in mechanical engineering. He has transitioned to mechanical engineering technologies, and needs just three more classes for his degree. In summer 2019, he had a 10-week internship at NASA Langley through the Virginia Space Grant Consortium’s STEM Takes Flight program. He worked in the composite model development section. He second internship at Langley, which is through NASA, will last 16 weeks and starts in January. He’ll be doing two-dimensional computer-aided design.
“Before I got into school, I didn’t really know about internships, what they were,” he said.
Now, he’s making the most of them and taking advantage of all they have to offer. Meeting Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise, who was giving a lecture at Langley, was one of the highlights of his first internship.
“That was really cool,” Tucker said.
He couldn’t have imagined that when he started at Thomas Nelson more than two years ago. He was familiar with the College, and had always heard good things about it. He was a little hesitant to start college for the first time in his mid-30s, but since it was cheaper than a four-year school, he figured it was worth shot.
“It was like, ‘Okay, this will be a start,’” he said.
He couldn’t be happier with the way things have turned out.
“The people are fantastic,” he said. “I can’t imagine how much different it is learning the same subject as a school that costs four times as much. Two plus two equals four no matter where you learn it.”
What he has learned at Thomas Nelson has far exceeded his expectations.
“I got into it to get a better job, but I didn’t really know what that meant,” he said. “I didn’t know how much it builds you as a person … I needed the challenge without knowing I needed the challenge.”
He credits Thomas Nelson professor Julie Young for making him aware of internships, and the possibilities those bring.
“She’s really great about putting (information) out there,” he said. “If more students made the most of the opportunities that were presented to them from the school, they could really enhance their futures in a way they can’t even imagine.”
As an older student, and one who has some real-world experience, Tucker tries to be a role model and mentor to his younger classmates. He hopes they avoid some of the mistakes he’s made.
“My whole life I’ve had great role models, and wasn’t willing to listen,” he said, specifically mentioning his parents, both Air Force colonels.
He mainly wants to make sure students take advantage of what is available.
“The kids need to make the most of the opportunities that are presented to them. If you don’t apply for things, you’ll never get them,” he said. “And if you don’t get these things, you’ll never know how they can really change you.”
Young has noticed a change in Tucker.
“I have seen him grow as a student over the years,” she said. “I am really proud of him.”