Antonio Acuna is at the intersection of industry 4.0. His previous experiences as an engineering intern at large companies gave him an inside look into how businesses are using software like Siemens NX. His current jobs as an Engineer at Arizona State University’s NASA L’SPACE Program and in the Instrument Design Laboratory also give him an inside look into academia from an educator’s perspective. In addition, Acuna is also a graduate student himself studying mechanical engineering.
With all these interests combined, Acuna is in the unique position to be able to put himself into the shoes of a student, educator, and industry professional. This makes his insight extremely valuable in helping to create and mentor the next generation of digital talent.
Finding his Passion with NASA L’SPACE & Space Works
Acuna started his undergraduate educational career studying aerospace engineering but couldn’t find a focus that he felt passionate about. Eventually, he got involved with ASU’s Space Works courses and that all changed.
As part of Space Works’ first ASU cohort, Acuna could implement the things he was learning in his classes. “This was the first time I could really see the work I was doing used in a real-world context,” Acuna said of his experience with Space Works. “Through Space Works putting my undergrad education into action, that’s when I learned that I actually liked mechanical engineering more. I pursued a graduate degree in mechanical engineering , because I saw myself being more inclined to thermal and structural design.”
Becoming a NASA L’SPACE & Space Works Mentor
After graduating from his undergraduate program at ASU, Acuna continued his education in the master’s degree program while also taking on a mentor role in the Space Works and NASA L’SPACE Academy organizations. One of his main responsibilities is teaching students about the industry-grade software Siemens NX.
The NASA L’SPACE Academy is a free, online, interactive program that is open to undergraduate STEM students interested in pursuing a career with NASA or other space organizations. L’SPACE consists of two Academies – the Mission Concept Academy, and the NASA Proposal Writing and Evaluation Experience Academy. Students may participate in one Academy per semester. Each 12-week Academy is designed to provide unique, hands-on learning and insight into the dynamic world of the space industry. Students learn NASA mission procedures and protocols from industry professionals as they collaborate with fellow team members to complete mission-related team-projects.
Working as a mentor, Acuna helps students learn the ins and outs of industry-grade software that they will run into during their careers. “I get to teach the courses and the areas that I found the most meaningful to me. I get to teach the NX areas that I found difficult. We’ve developed a set of curricula for our Space Works and L’SPACE classes. Now, we have over 100 students certified in NX through these courses.”
Tailoring his Teaching
As a former student of the program, Acuna can get in the mind of the students he is teaching and tailor his teaching style to things that he knows first-hand can be challenging for first time users of NX. Acuna didn’t learn NX prior to using it during his corporate in undergrad, so he understands how far ahead students can get by just understanding how to work with the software proficiently.
While Acuna is keeping himself busy between L’SPACE and his graduate studies, he’s also splitting his time with the Instrument Design Group at ASU. Within this role he gets to work on some of the IR instruments that are used by NASA. “It’s really satisfying to know that what I’m working on, you’re holding something in your hand that’s going to be millions of miles away at some point.” Currently, he’s working on flight hardware with NASA that will go to Europa.
Looking Toward the Future
Between studying for his master’s degree, being a mentor and working as an engineer Acuna hasn’t necessarily decided where he wants to end up. When asked about his future plans Acuna, showing his innovative nature said, “I like the academia side. I’ve been able to teach NX and develop these courses, over time you see students ask questions and more and more and you can refine the curriculum.” With his vast experience at such a young age it is clear there are many opportunities in the future for him.
Advice to other engineers
When asked what advice he would give students looking toward a career in engineering he said, “The only real way to focus on and find your passion is to do project-based courses. I tell students to go find a project before you graduate. Go put your degree to use before you leave university.”
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