portrait of Ryan Mathewson holding a NASA button
Ryan Mathewson poses with a NASA button on top of the Saturn V dynamic test stand at the Marshall Space Flight Center. The photo was taken during his third and final internship with NASA before his graduation from MU. Photo courtesy of Ryan Mathewson.

Many college students shoot for the stars when it comes to applying for jobs after graduation. For one MU graduate, outer space is exactly where he landed — well, as close as one can get to space while working from Earth. Ryan Mathewson stuck with a childhood dream and secured a job with the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA).

Mathewson graduated from MU in May 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a minor in aerospace engineering. The Blue Springs, Missouri, native has always had an interest in space exploration.

“My oldest memory of a Halloween costume I picked out was an astronaut, and my parents helped me make one out of stuff we had around the house,” he says.

Mathewson reached out to NASA early on in his college career. He interned with the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for three consecutive summers during his time at MU.

“In 2015 I was working a project called FlexCraft, a single person spacecraft concept,” Mathewson says. “In 2016 I worked on a Deep Space Habitat command center for possible use on a flight to Mars. In 2017 I worked in the Electrostatic Levitation Lab where we test new materials in a containerless processing environment.”

Even though his summer activities were out of this world, Mathewson was down-to-earth during his time at Mizzou.

photo of Ryan Mathewson with his FIG class on Faurot Field
Ryan Mathewson (wearing gold) poses with his Global Engineering FIG class as they tour Faurot Field. Photo courtesy of Ryan Mathewson.

The core of Mathewson’s involvement took place in the residence halls, where he lived and worked as a peer advisor for two years. He taught a science Freshman Interest Group (FIG) in Discovery Hall before moving to Hudson Hall and leading a global engineering FIG. The role extended far beyond educating students — he worked to be a constant resource to the students, both in class and where they lived.

He was involved extensively on campus, including working at Plaza 900, one of the dining halls on campus, and with the College of Engineering’s study abroad program, which enabled him to travel to France and England during his sophomore year. He continued to participate in the program and traveled to Greece during the winter break of his senior year while serving as a Global Engineer Ambassador.

“I liked to try to take advantage of all Mizzou had to offer,” Mathewson says.

“Helping with academics, crises, and questions were regular parts of the job,” he says.

For Mathewson, being on call 24/7 was worth it for the relationships he was able to create with his students.

“It was really fun being a mentor and living with these students on campus. I am still friends with some of the students from my floors,” he says.

Mathewson enjoyed his time with MU Residential Life so much that he decided to apply for a higher role. During his senior year, he was chosen along with four other students to become a student coordinator for the FIGs program. The job involved supervising 20 peer advisors, evaluating their lesson plans each week and working on other tasks with the help of the program coordinator.

The role teaches students supervision and management skills that can be applied to their lives far beyond the academic environment.

“I really improved my ability to teach others,” Mathewson says. “A lot of that came while I was teaching the FIG classes and has helped my mentoring skills across my life.”

Outside of his work with MU Residential Life, Mathewson still found time in his hectic schedule to be a member of Sigma Phi Delta, a fraternity for engineers, where he took on the roles of historian, secretary and special events coordinator during his time. He also volunteered for STRIPES, a student organization that provides safe rides home for other students.

Mathewson is now working at NASA full-time and hopes to eventually return to school part-time to pursue a master’s degree. The ultimate goal, he says, is to become an astronaut and travel into space himself.

With the talent and skills Mathewson cultivated at MU, not even gravity can slow him down.