By Nicole Capozziello
Published December 2, 2021
Over the summer, Danny Wilkinson, a second year aerospace engineering PhD student, had the experience of a lifetime: a summer internship at the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).
Considered one of the big five intelligent agencies, the NRO is headquartered in Chantilly, Va., near Washington, D.C. Interns are assigned to various directorates, such as the Mission Support Directorate or Systems Engineering Directorate, within the NRO.
As a part of his internship, Wilkinson researched the efficacy of specific technologies and how they can benefit the NRO. He also served as a technical advisor on a Broad Agency Announcement, which entailed looking at proposals submitted by contractors and reviewing them from a technical perspective.
Wilkinson’s work culminated in a presentation to NRO leadership at summer’s end. “This was a great opportunity, particularly since only one intern from each directorate was chosen to present. I’m immensely proud of Danny for earning this distinction, and his work at NRO overall,” says John Crassidis, Samuel P. Capen Chair Professor and SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
The presentation’s audience included NRO director Dr. Chris Scolese, a University at Buffalo electrical and computer engineering alumnus.
“In addition to being an outstanding engineer, Danny proved to be an outstanding leader as recognized by his peers. It’s great to see that UB still produces the best!” said Scolese.
Wilkinson learned about the opportunity at NRO during an internship at NASA Goddard during summer of 2020. He is grateful to his advisor, Dr. Crassidis, for his support before and during the internship, as well as everyone he worked with at the NRO.
Wilkinson says, “It was exciting just to learn about the intelligence community and Department of Defense, and gain a greater understanding of how our government operates.” He also went on some stimulating trips, including to Los Angeles, where he visited facilities of NRO contractors.
The experience is one that will feed his work for years to come. “My time at the NRO provided me with a broader context on the impacts my research can have,” says Wilkinson. “Additionally, I gained a much greater understanding of the aerospace community and where my research and skills will fit best.”
Being at the NRO was unlike any experience he’d had before. What surprised him most? “They won't write your name on your Starbucks cup in the cafeteria,” Wilkinson shares.