Engineer gains the confidence to shoot for the stars

All it took was one simple question to get David Shnaider dreaming about his future.

As a middle-schooler, David said his mom sat him down and posed the question that every kid has to answer at one point or another: What do you want to be when you grow up? Instead of choosing what most young students choose as their dream job—teacher, doctor, astronaut—David wanted to be specific. After spending hours exploring different career paths, David developed a fascination with materials engineering.

“I thought it was really fascinating to know how to alter a material to behave how you want it. It felt like you were editing life,” he said.

In his senior year at East High School, David took advantage of the concurrent enrollment program and successfully completed a full year of college credits. After applying and accepting admission into the materials and metallurgical program at Colorado School of Mines as a DSF Scholar, David knew he finally had the confidence to take advantage of the opportunities that college presented. While leaving home to live on a college campus is an adjustment for every student, David saw it as a chance to grow and step out of his comfort zone.

“With this great new opportunity that had been given to me, I tried my hardest to go outside of my comfort zone and become a true member of the community. This ended up being a truly life changing experience. I ended up meeting an amazing number of new people whom I lived with on a day-to-day basis and was able to make many friendships that will last a lifetime.”

Those initial relationships propelled David forward through college and inspired him to keep taking risks by going outside of his comfort zone. David says his advice to younger Scholars or high school students is that the friendships they forge along the way are what make or break the experience.

“Going through school, the biggest helpful factor is having friends either there for you or rooting for you, to try to make a life for yourself that you want or dream of,” David said.

Upon his graduation from Colorado School of Mines in May 2016, David was offered a position as a testing engineer with Constellium-UACJ, an aluminum auto body sheet company in Michigan. Although he had no friends or connections in Michigan, he took the risk and accepted the position. David said that this risk – just like those he took in college by going out of his comfort zone – has paid off. As a testing engineer at Constellium-UACJ, David helps the company identify problems with materials before they leave the facility. David said his new position has helped him grow as a leader.

His long-term goal is to transfer his knowledge of materials and metallurgical engineering to a career in the aerospace industry, and he aims to eventually work for the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Although David never dreamed of becoming an astronaut when he was a kid, his skills and experience have now set him up for success in the field.

“I just want to end up in space,” David said.