Name: Ryan Webb’16
Sport: Men’s Heavyweight Crew
Major: Course 16 (Aerospace Engineering)
Current Place of Employment: NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Why did you choose to attend MIT?
I chose to attend MIT because of its reputation in aerospace engineering, and it's incredibly unique and accepting atmosphere. There is unlimited potential at MIT to do whatever inspires you, so much so that it's almost impossible to select it down to a number of things that fits within the number of hours you can possibly spend there. I had a feeling that I might get in, but certainly never actually expected to, and was shocked when I did. I know many suffer from imposter syndrome, but know that this amazing place picked you and you are here for a great reason. Stay busy and you'll see how great you are.
What is your current job title and what does this position entail?
Systems Engineer I in the Pre-Project Systems Engineering and Formulation Office. As a systems engineer, I work on the development of new spacecraft (mostly robotic) for exploration of the solar system, including near-Earth science, Mars, Jupiter, and beyond. My job involves development and validation/verification of project requirements, interfaces with contractors, launch providers, science partners, interfaces between subsystems on the spacecraft, and overall system and mission design maturity.
How did your time at MIT prepare you for your work as a Systems Engineer?
Course 16 lays the foundation for a great systems engineering mentality. I was able to conduct research through my UROPs that has benefited me tremendously. Experiences in extra-curricular activities such as GEL and Rocket Team helped me learn and practice leadership and teamwork skills. MIT's reputation and bountiful connections helped me to secure competitive internships which helped me learn a great deal about industry, and ultimately get the job I have today. More than anything else, MIT has prepared me for the real-world in that the challenges at school are often much more daunting than those faced in real life, and in comparison being an adult with a job is almost easier.
What pieces of advice would you have for current MIT Student-Athletes?
Get enough sleep. I know that is incredibly hard with all of the work to do, especially if you are on crew, practice at 6:30 am, and have to deal with group project meetings starting at 11pm. Sleep will prevent injuries and make you a happier, stronger person. Also, balance is important and I understand taking on too many commitments, but when the going gets rough do whatever you can to stay involved in athletics. They provide a tremendous release and outlet for the mental stress placed on us at school, and at many times it helped to keep me sane to go to a team lift or out on the water.
How did your athletic involvement aid in the path that you chose following graduation?
Rowing in an absurdly hard sport meant for true masochists, and in some ways that is analogous to space exploration. Crew is sport requiring incredible mental toughness, and this has stuck with me and given me the determination to follow-through on difficult, unpleasant tasks with the understanding that they will add up and be part of an amazing bigger picture if I'm willing to put in the work. Additionally, it has instilled in me a love of competition sport and rowing that carries through to my free-time activities now: I'm even returning to row with my alumni friends from the class of 2016 at this year's Head of the Charles Regatta.
What is your most fond memory of MIT athletics?
Each and every year over IAP all four rowing teams take a trip to Cocoa Beach, Florida to train on the water while the Charles is frozen over. The bonding on these trips, the fun side-adventures, and the invaluable training and performance improvements we collectively make these several weeks per year some of my fondest memories in all my time at MIT.
What would you say are your greatest athletic & academic accomplishments during your time at MIT?
Athletic: I'd say that my single fondest memory came my sophomore year in a difficult race against Delaware. From the start of the race to the halfway mark, the other boat led us from anywhere from a few seats to a full boat length. Then, coming under the Mass Ave bridge we were able to step it up and begin moving through them. Our coxswain called for 10 hard strokes from each pair in turn, and on my pair we were even with the other boat. We were able to pull ahead and win by half a length, and while there were many other races we won by more, or against more impressive schools, this was the hardest won and most savored victory.
Academic: While tough to pick, perhaps the one that stands out the most is that for the MIT Rocket Team, as vice-president I was able to help lead the team from an explosive ground test failure of our rocket engine to a complete redesign and successful flight in one semester, leading to our school's victory in our first ever entry at the Intercollegiate Rocketry Engineering Competition held annually in Utah.
What was your favorite non-athletics activity here at MIT?
It's hard to pick from my fraternity, UROPs, and Rocket Team, but I would honestly say that spending time with my incredible friends was my favorite thing to do on and off the water.