Where are you from?
I was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and have also had the opportunity to live in Wisconsin, Tennessee, Arizona, Georgia, France (Nantes), Virginia, New York and California. Living in so many different places with so many diverse cultures has allowed me to communicate more effectively amongst my peers in the engineering fields of study.
Why did you choose to go into aerospace engineering?
I have wanted to work in the mechanical and aerospace engineering field since 1996 and first saw the movie Apollo 13 at age seven. In the film, there’s a pivotal scene in which a new CO2 cartridge needed to be manufactured from spare parts. The square cartridge needed to fit inside a round hole to save the astronauts, and they were ultimately successful in doing so. This scene continues to inspire me to think differently about all problems and quite literally showed me how to think outside the box.
What do you like most about engineering at UB?
Studying engineering at the University at Buffalo is an absolute privilege, and the faculty and staff are second to none. They use every opportunity to provide the students with a quality education. As an example, student counselors such as the graduate school’s Rosemary Lombardo, are kind and are always willing to help the students. Finally, I work with a great team, The CRashworthiness for Aerospace Structures and Hybrids (CRASH) Lab, under Dr. Javid Bayandor. Studying at UB could be considered homeschooling because I always feel right at home.
What is your favorite place on campus?
Given my name, I am required to say Grace Plaza; however, I genuinely love to go to Baird Point/Lake LaSalle to relax, read, or feed the geese. It is not uncommon to see me sitting on a pillar looking out over the lake, relaxing on a beautiful day.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on improving impact tolerant structures, which are capable of bringing Martian samples back to Earth safely on a vehicle coined the Earth Entry Vehicle (EEV). The proposed project is being developed out of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and various NASA research centers around the nation. I am also given the honor of assisting various projects applicable to my studies via CRASH Lab endeavors, such as the recently awarded NASA Innovative Advanced Concept (NIAC), BREEZE.
What else do you do on campus and in the community?
I was the NY State Captain of the 2019 AIAA visit to the U.S. Congress, leading a record number of UB participants on visits to 16 NY congressional district offices. I’m also on the student organizing committee of the International Planetary Probe workshop and am a CRASH Lab member of the newly formed Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium at Applied Physics Lab. Over the years, I’ve also volunteered in Buffalo Public Schools with the SEAS Science is Elementary program.
What have you done that you are most proud of?
I am most proud of deciding to go to graduate school after working in the mechanical engineering industry for several years. The decision to step back from my career path to pursue further education, though difficult, proved to be one of my greatest personal triumphs. Because of this change in direction, I have had the privilege of working under the University at Buffalo’s Associate Professor Dr. Javid Bayandor and JPL’s Dr. Scott Perino and Dr. Peyman Mohasseb. Sometimes the most difficult tasks in life are simply getting started, and I would like to thank my grandfather George Grace for the final push.
Has there been a particular faculty member that has been formative during your time at UB, and how so?
I would be remiss in not saying my advisor Dr. Javid Bayandor has been the most transformative person at UB in my life. He is the reason I have had the opportunities that I have had in graduate school, and I am proud to be under his guidance. Since working under Dr. Bayandor, I have improved my communication skills and the ability to conduct proper scientific and mathematically backed research. I can think of no one else who answers this question more definitively.
What are you passionate about?
I am most passionate about improving myself every day to help others around me. In my opinion, the entire purpose of engineering is to sustainably improve the human condition, coupled with our humanistic desire for continued discovery.
What are your future plans?
I plan to complete my PhD at the University at Buffalo and to work at NASA to complete the mission objectives set forth via the proposed Mars Sample Return mission. My ultimate goal is to gain respect and trust within my engineering field and to become the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Director. There I would continue to push exploratory technology, United States STEM education, and innovative thinking for solutions for the next generation.
What is your advice for prospective students?
If you are considering UB, you are headed for a concrete foundational education. If you are concerned about the cold, snowy winters, the UB experience more than makes up for this with a warm and welcoming environment all year. In addition, if you think you will enjoy the best buffalo wings in the country, you will fit right in! Set your goals high and keep moving forward. Understand that education is not about teaching you what to think but how to think. Take it from my first-hand account: a UB education will take you places you never dreamed of, or as I like to say, “Ad Astra.”
Cameron Grace received the Harold O. Wolf Award from the School of Engineering aned Applied Sciences in 2020.