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Chris Dale, '06

Posted: 4/1/2014

Chris, you were a member of the first graduating class of Holy Spirit Prep. Any cool “firsts” you got to experience? Being part of the first graduating class was a really unique experience.  The school did a good job of involving our class in helping form the foundation for the classes who would come after us.  We got to play an integral part of establishing everything from clubs to traditions.

If I had to pick just one favorite memory, I'd have to go with HSP's first ever football victory.  While I wasn't a member of the football team, I travelled to lots of the games.  In only the second year of the football program, we got a win, and everybody went nuts.  We rushed the field, jumped around with the players, it was amazing.  The game was at least an hour away from HSP, but everyone on the bus ride back was still ecstatic at the end of the trip home.

Our senior class trip to Rome was also incredible.  I mean, how many students get that kind of opportunity?  I'm so glad that the Rome trip has continued to happen year after year.

One final favorite memory was graduation day.  Sure, it was bittersweet, knowing that you and your close friends from the past four years would be going their separate ways, but I know everyone had such a great feeling of accomplishment. The students, parents, faculty, everyone had taken risks to attempt to found a school, so when it all came to fruition everyone was just so proud.

I keep in touch with quite a few of my classmates, both from my class and the year below.  Several classmates went to Georgia Tech while I was there, and some even joined my fraternity.  One of the guys who joined my fraternity, Matt Crane, ended up attending University of Washington while I was working for Boeing in Seattle, so it was nice to have an old friend in a new town.  Andres Guzman and I had the exact same schedule our senior year at HSP, so we got pretty close.  Then we both went to Tech, we joined the same fraternity, and he ended up being my best man at my wedding!

You studied Aerospace Engineering at Georgia Tech and are currently pursuing a Masters from Purdue University in Aeronautics and Astronautics. How and why did you became interested in becoming in engineer? My interest in science and all things space was kindled long before I ever stepped foot on HSP's grounds.  I attended a parent/child weekend at Space Camp as a young boy, and I was instantly hooked.  Given that I loved science and space, engineering was the logical choice.  There was a definitive moment where I knew I wanted to be an engineer, and that was the first time I ever saw the movie Apollo 13.  Specifically, it was the scene where they are trying to fix the carbon dioxide filter.  An engineer comes in with a box of everything the astronauts have available to them on the vehicle, and says "We've got to find a way to make this [square canister] fit into the hole for this [round canister] .... using nothing but that."  So cool!

HSP did give me lots of opportunities to expand my knowledge of science.  For such a small, new school, there were quite a few science classes and electives offered.  I was able to take Biology freshman year, AP Biology and Chemistry sophomore year, AP Chemistry and Physics junior year, and AP Physics and Organic and Biochemistry senior year.  By the time I left HSP, my knowledge of chemistry was so good that my chemistry class at Georgia Tech was easy, and I was able to make good money as a chemistry tutor!

Can you share with us any neat internships or projects in which you’ve been involved as an Aeronautics and Astronautics engineer? Definitely the coolest project I've been involved in was the Mars Desert Research Station.  The station is located in a remote area in Utah, which has land formations that are somewhat comparable to those found on Mars.  The purpose of the station is to study the kinds of everyday situations that could arise when we put humans on Mars.  Everything from growing plants to power generation to performing tasks while in a spacesuit are taken into account.  I was the chief engineer for the crew from the Georgia Tech Mars Society, responsible for keeping the power going, performing maintenance on the water system, as well as making sure the 4-wheelers used for the Extra Vehicular Activities (EVAs) were operational.  It was such a unique experience, and probably the closest I'll ever come to being an astronaut.

What are your plans after graduate school? Right now, I plan to relax and enjoy some free time!  Working full time while taking classes in the evenings is tough!  That being said, it’s a great opportunity and will help open doors for my career.  I plan to continue working for Boeing designing the Space Launch System at least until the first launch, scheduled for 2017.  Working for NASA would definitely be amazing, but I could see myself staying with Boeing for my whole career.  Right now, NASA is my customer, so I get to work with NASA even though I don't work for them.

Any advice for students interested in pursuing a career in engineering? Definitely make sure to get a firm grasp on math, specifically calculus.  Most engineering classes assume that you have a working knowledge of calculus.  Having a strong foundation in math will really help make the classes more manageable, allowing you to focus on learning about the engineering problems, and not getting stuck on the math tools needed to solve those problems.

Internships or co-ops also are invaluable.  Companies are looking for new hires who have real world work experience.  Having a 4.0 GPA is great, but not if you got that by doing nothing but studying, never getting involved in outside projects or organizations.  Make sure you get involved in clubs or organizations, both within your field of interest as well as just for recreation and other passions you may have.  A well-rounded resume is much more than just your GPA.  It needs to show that you have a drive to accomplish things, can work as a team, and when you get an interview, they will want to hear about your real-life experiences.  Study hard, work hard and play hard, and you'll be well on your way to success.

Chris Dale holds a Bachelor’s degree from Georgia Tech in Aerospace Engineering and is currently working on a Master of Science in Aeronautics and Astronautics Engineering from Purdue University. He is happily married to Michelle Belsante Dale. They reside in Huntsville, Alabama, where Chris works as a Reliability and Maintainability Engineer for the Boeing Company.

Chris Dale in the cockpit of a craft at Boeing, where he works as an engineer.
Chris, his wife Michelle, and their dog.
Andres Guzman with Chris Dale at HSP's first graduation.