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Calvin Graduate Helps Spacecraft Reach Pluto


Sure, it’s a cliche. But the best college experiences teach students to reach for the stars.

Or Pluto, in the case of Thomas Strikwerda.

The Calvin College alumni managed the design, guidance and control teams of the NASA New Horizon spacecraft that was launched in 2006, traveled 3 billion miles and sent back humanity’s first, positively breathtaking, images of Pluto in July.

Strikwerda returned to his alma mater this month to speak about the Pluto mission and what’s next for the spacecraft (in five years, it’s expected to reach a recently discovered object on the solar system’s frontier known as 2014 MU69.)

More than 200 people turned out for the talk.

Strikwerda grew up in Grand Rapids, fell in love with astronomy and helped build the James C. Veen Observatory.

It was at Calvin that his passion became a career. Recognizing his talent, faculty allowed him to work as a presenter in the Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium while he pursued his undergraduate degree in physics from Calvin.

He later earned his doctorate and postdoctoral fellowship in astronautical engineering, and his career has taken him to the moon and back and then some.

A key member of the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, Strikwerda has supervised mission design of several key projects, from the Messenger Mission to Mercury to the Hubble Space Telescope.

“Some people have the image that spacecraft scientists and engineers just sit alone at a console typing in commands,” Strikwerda said. “It’s nothing like that. It’s a multidisciplinary endeavor that requires many teams to work together, all precisely choreographed. It’s amazing!”

It’s an amazing career that began at Calvin, which prides itself on helping students chart their path toward awesome careers.

It’s one of Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities that are purposefully different than big state schools. Their world-renowned faculty teach their own classes instead of relying on a grad student.

Doing so helps forge tight bonds with students that their potential. Because helping students find their muse and follow it is what they do.

The schools emphasize community over crowds and a spirit of togetherness and cohesion that just doesn’t exist at big state schools. With low class sizes and award-winning faculty, the schools are proud that students forge lifelong bonds with professors.

Often less expensive than public institutions, the independents boast higher four-year graduation rates for a truly unique and affordable experience.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.