Andrew Gatherer, a junior mechanical engineering major, recalls the day he walked into his first American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) meeting as a freshman and proposed the group build and launch a rocket.
“It’ll be great!” he said. “I was this doe-eyed little kid. And I was mistaken.”
Now he can laugh at himself and his naïveté, because the lessons he’s learned in the two and a half intervening years have not only made him more committed to all things space, but have helped him grow as a leader. Gatherer is vice-president of Rice Eclipse, the University’s rocket club. Earlier this year, the group not only accelerated testing of their experimental hybrid rocket engine, but also launched several high-powered rockets near College Station.
“The most important lesson I have learned is that it’s great to be an engineer,” he said. “Rice provides us with an education that focuses on problem solving. And I have learned that I can’t always think in a linear fashion, because real-world problems are not cut-and-dried equation sets.”
As a freshman, Gatherer co-founded Rice-X (an homage to Space-X, the company dedicated to human leisure space travel), which is now called Rice Eclipse. At the time, he didn’t understand the correlation between a strong leader and a strong personality but courses with the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership helped him hone his skills and refine his abilities.
“When things would go wrong in building those first rockets, I was initially about who’s at fault,” he said. “But, leadership isn’t about assigning blame, it’s about figuring out how to move forward.”
As Gatherer further developed his leadership abilities, he saw Eclipse change as a group as well. Sometimes, with student-run organizations, year-to-year success can depend on who is on the leadership team. Gatherer and his fellow leaders have made it a point to mentor younger members so they’ll be ready to join the group’s leadership ranks.
Today, Eclipse has 68 contributing members and Gatherer feels gratified that people are interested in the group and its goals. Next year, he’ll step down from leadership, but will still be a member of Eclipse, likely working on one of the group’s project teams.
“It’s time for the next generation of students to take over, and have the chance to work with all of us who have been in these roles,” he said. “That helps us create a sustainable leadership structure.”
For all the bumps along the way, though, he wouldn’t trade coming up with the idea to build and launch a rocket for anything.
“For the rest of my life, I can say, ‘this is what I did at Rice.’”