SHSU Helps Launch Space Industry Careers
July 26, 2018
SHSU Media Contact: Hannah Haney
This year marks NASA’s 60th anniversary of its establishment as a U.S. government agency when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed NASA’s founding legislation, the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act, on July 29, 1958.
Over the years, the agency built its foundation on hiring the best and the brightest and has employed many Sam Houston State University graduates to promote its mission of innovation and leadership.
Alumna Katie West dreamt of working for NASA since she was a little girl.
“NASA was the coolest place to work in my mind. Who else works with people who go to space?” West said. “As I got older, NASA also attracted me with the opportunities to work with the international community and develop new processes and technology to use in space to benefit our lives on Earth.”
In order to achieve this dream, West knew she had to get into a good college and keep her grade point average high. SHSU was her ideal choice.
“My parents both went to SHSU and I loved how I felt when I visited the campus,” West said. “They always taught me the importance of hard work and to never take anything for granted.”
West went on to graduate from SHSU with a Bachelor of Science in physics and a minor in mathematics in 2010. While attending school she was involved in Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority, Society of Physics Students and Sigma Pi Sigma the Physics Honors fraternity. She started to apply for internships at the Johnson Space Center her junior year of college.
“SHSU helped to develop my work ethic, to ask for what I wanted and to take charge of my path at school. That has translated in to taking charge of my path at work and in my everyday life,” West said.
Today she is fulfilling her dream as part of a NASA group that plans everything that happens on, to, or from the International Space Station and works as a flight controller in the office of the inspector general at Johnson Space Center. Her team ensures that the space crew’s procedures, timelines and operational content are prepared daily. In addition, she works with international partners in Russia, Europe and Japan to integrate their respective plans to make the astronauts time in space as productive and efficient as possible.
“I get to work with logistical puzzles every day because our plans are always changing and evolving,” West said. “I also love that I get to interact with our international partners on a daily basis. I have even traveled to Munich, Germany and Tokyo, Japan for work.”
In her spare time, West is heavily involved in the SHSU Bay Area Alumni and Friends Club. She was one of the founding members and served as president in 2014 and 2015. She keeps active by dancing ballet en pointe, tap and modern. She is also involved with bodybuilding and weightlifting recreationally.
Social media strategist, Andy Pondillo, is not officially considered a NASA government employee, but the work that he does for Space Center Houston is essential to inspiring and educating generations on the wonders of space exploration.
“The work I do on social media extends the conversation and message of Space Center Houston. We celebrate the past, reveal new innovations coming in the future, and loop it all together for an audience that is always itching for more,” Pondillo said. “Our center is the top international attraction in the area and has the goal of drawing upwards of two million people with our future plans. I see myself as a key component to this growth in giving our fans what they want. Space Center Houston is a dream destination, and we want to make those dreams a reality.”
Growing up only 20 minutes from Space Center Houston, Pondillo watched from a distance as the agency grew before he applied to work for the company.
“This position was my call to the big leagues and it really brought my career full circle to come back home and work,” Pondillo said. “I’ve never been more excited for the future.”
Pondillo credits his education from SHSU for developing his storytelling skills and was initially drawn to the university because of its respected broadcast journalism program. During his time at Sam he worked for KSHU Channel 7 and 90.5 The Kat and graduated with a Mass Communications degree in broadcast journalism in 2011.
“SHSU assisted in launching my broadcast career. I became a commercial radio host at 21 and without my background of being on-air that would have never happened,” Pondillo said. “Radio and TV are extremely tricky and competitive fields. It’s not a career where one can just apply. SHSU certainly empowered me to get that ball rolling.”
His degree also prepared him for a career in social media marketing. Today, his role is to incorporate written posts, ads, long-form events, short-form video, or elements of a complex digital campaign on Space Center Houston’s social media channels. Additionally, he shoots and edits his own video along with still photos.
“It’s my job to keep Space Center Houston as fresh in their digital game as possible. Social media gives me an opportunity to deliver a personalized experience on a daily basis,” Pondillo said. “I have the rare ability to be at the pulse of everything happening at Space Center Houston and I work to deliver these moments to our audience. I really enjoy entertaining and educating in a way that spreads our brand message.”
Pondillo also enjoys watching the Houston Astros play and exploring around town. He hopes to complete his first book in the near future.
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