UMD Student Reaches For The Stars With NASA

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The earth-shattering power of NASA is usually felt for most through one’s television. But for 21-year-old UMD student Kirsi Kuutti, the sky is the limit.

“NASA was not on my radar at all until I was 17 — my senior year of high school,” Kirsi explained.

That’s when she was a captain on the Duluth East Daredevils robotics team.

“We eat, sleep and defecate robotics,” Kirsi said.

Working on the school’s robotics team was something she just happened to stumble on after years of studying the ballet.

“When I first heard about the robotics team, I thought they were a bunch of ugly nerds and I didn’t want anything to do with them,” Kirsi joked.

But there was something special about Kirsi that Daredevils coach Tim Velner spotted right away.

“I just remember thinking this girl has a lot of grit and she doesn’t let things go,” Velner said. “When Kirsi came into the room, that atmosphere changed and you could just feel the rest of the team get this sense of confidence that they didn’t have when she wasn’t there.”

And that confidence, Velner said, began to build sky high for Kirsi after she literally had a dream about NASA engineers helping her build a robot to get to Outer space.

“I woke up that night and I got to go to space right now. And I set straight up in bed — and that’s really stereotypical to say, but I did — and I applied that night for an internship and would end up getting it a couple months later,” Kirsi said.

And with that internship, came the opportunity to work on engineering projects at NASA that will help eventually get astronauts to Mars.

“Oh my gosh, there’s a giant Saturn 5 rocket that took us to the moon, outside of my work place, and whenever I want, I can walk in and look at it and be like, this beast was in space and I’m next to it,” Kirsi explained.

While NASA is a big part of her life right now, Kirsi is studying at UMD for an electrical engineering and computer science double major.
She flip flops between studying and the co-operative education at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

“It is just the most surreal thing to work at NASA. During lunch I’d be waiting behind an astronaut to get chicken strips and you are kind of like, come on,” Kirsi joked.

And while the goal for Kirsi is to one day become a full-time employee at NASA, she’s living in the moment and hoping other young people – especially females — take the leap, no matter how big or scary it may seem at the time.

“This is a kid who just had a dream and really, literally a dream. And she didn’t ignore it. But she also didn’t say I can’t do that, and that’s really important,” Velner said.

“Maybe some of those urges and dreams you have, you should maybe go ahead and chase after them and see where they come up,” Krisi explained.

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