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Engineering management master’s degree propels NASA pro to new heights

By Julie Cooper
Aug. 8, 2019

When your day job has you reaching for the stars, you need something to keep you grounded.

For NASA mission operations engineer Amanda Kniepkamp, that something was the pursuit of a master’s degree in engineering, earned 100% online through Oregon State University Ecampus.

Amanda has worked as a NASA contractor since 2007 and is currently at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. As a mission operations engineer, she works on the Deep Space Network with a team that supports 45 spacecraft missions on the moon or further into space.

She personally represents three spacecrafts and negotiates the use of ground antennae that communicate with and collect data from each spacecraft.

“NASA is constantly trying to get the best and the brightest, which is why I got my master’s to remain competitive with my peers.”

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“It’s very intense. If you mess something up — even just a character, a single letter of the alphabet, a number — you could bring down a million- or billion-dollar spacecraft,” says Amanda. “But with high risk comes high reward. In the end, it’s worth it when you see these great discoveries that we’ve made on other planets.”

That high-stakes environment is competitive. Not everyone can say they work at NASA. But Amanda can, and she wants to keep it that way.

So when she noticed that most new recruits at the lab had earned a graduate degree, she decided to go back to school so she could secure her spot for years to come – and, after 12 years, begin moving up the career ladder.

In 2016, her search for flexible, top-ranked programs led her to Oregon State’s online Master of Engineering in Industrial Engineering program in the College of Engineering.

OSU’s online engineering graduate programs are ranked No. 9 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The program’s engineering management focus was just what Amanda needed to gain the business, financial and organizational expertise that will make her an effective leader in a management role within NASA.

Her online courses let her interact with experienced engineering faculty from diverse industry backgrounds, all while tailoring her coursework to confront the real challenges of her aerospace workplace.

“My confidence has definitely gone up. I’ve learned a lot of skills that I can put to use now.”

“I wanted to use real-life examples and things that I was working on. That’s the whole point of the program: to use it for my personal advancement,” says Amanda, who was offered a team lead position after graduating.

“I wanted to use real-life examples and things that I was working on. That’s the whole point of the program: to use it for my personal advancement,” she says.

Whether creating a matrix organization chart to understand how the approximately 6,500 employees at her facility relate to one another or investigating a spacecraft failure within a class project, Amanda ensured that her degree program would grant her a better understanding of the problems she’d face each day at work.

All of her hard work paid off when, just a month after graduating in June 2019, she was offered a team lead position.

“NASA is constantly trying to get the best and the brightest, which is why I got my master’s to remain competitive with my peers,” says Amanda, who traveled to Corvallis to receive her degree at Oregon State’s 150th commencement ceremony. “My confidence has definitely gone up. I’ve learned a lot of skills that I can put to use now.”

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