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MSU Denver student Tim Erickson is ready for takeoff

Tim EricksonTim Erickson remembers taking apart lawnmowers, fans and other mechanical objects when he was growing up in Sturgis, South Dakota. His curiosity for figuring out how things worked never left him, which is partly why he’s now pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering at MSU Denver.

Erickson moved to Denver to attend the Denver Automotive and Diesel College (now Lincoln School of Technology), where he earned his associates degree in Automotive Technology. He spent over 10 years working on systems for Honda, Trane and creating custom truck bodies for mobile tool trucks for Matco, Cornwell and Snap-On tool representatives.

“The associates degree helped me get to a certain point in my career but I eventually hit a ceiling,” he explained. “I was spending quite a bit of time learning about the materials and tools I worked with everyday anyway, so I decided to pursue a degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology at MSU Denver.”

He was a little nervous the first semester back in school after working for 12 years but the resources available in the Student Success Program made the transition smoother. Erickson worked full time his first semester while attending classes part time. He achieved a 4.0 GPA his first semester and was honored with an award from the Student Success Program.

“It gave me the encouragement to keep going,” Erickson said. After the first semester, his then girlfriend, now wife, Lindsay, encouraged him to commit to taking classes full time. He hasn’t regretted it since as he’s now taking classes that are 63 percent experiential vs lecture.

“I’m a hands-on learner,” he said. “The classes in the Mechanical Engineering Technology program are perfect for me.” So far his favorite class has been the Composites Manufacturing class mostly because he’s been able to learn the science behind materials such as fiberglass, carbon fiber or Kevlar, construct the material in the lab and test for failures.

In between all this, Erickson proposed to and married Lindsay in 2012. In July 2014 they welcomed twins, Evan and Avery. Now he has even more motivation to succeed.

“My advisor, Dr. Devi Kalla, encouraged me to take classes that combine the math, physics and hands-on activities,” Erickson said. Those classes, and his participation in the Cooperative Internship Program through the Applied Learning Center, helped Erickson land an internship at Lockheed Martin.

“I’ve always been interested in aerospace but had this vision that anyone who worked in that industry had to be serious scientists, the big brain types,” he said. “Now I’m working on materials for satellites and space craft, using 3D printing technologies, and taking on extra responsibilities every day.”

The internship was originally designed to last for one semester. At the end of his internship Erickson talked with his supervisor about future opportunities. It was then that Erickson was told he could stay until graduation. In February, he signed an offer letter to continue working at Lockheed full time, and perhaps post-graduation.

“Turns out that my hands-on experience with materials, my understanding of the science and practical use behind the designs, and ability to problem solve on the spot is just what they’re looking for,” Erickson said. “I’ve learned much of these skills through my work experience and classes at MSU Denver.”

Erickson is now working on his senior project in his final semester before graduation. It’s an ambitious project, an “ASV with deployable ROV”—that’s an autonomous surface vehicle with a remote operated vehicle to the rest of us. Erickson and two other students are using everything they learned in classes, plus he’s computer programming and web coding, to bring this concept to reality. It has applications in search and rescue, military, space, and commercial usage. “Any where it’s not known if it’s safe to send in humans, basically,” Erickson said.

So far there is a lot of interest in the ASV with deployable ROV. “We’ve been asked to present our project this spring in front of the National Conference of Undergraduate Research,” he said. The team will also present on campus for their final project.

“I’m very fortunate to have these opportunities at MSU Denver,” Erickson said. “It’s a lot of fun, it doesn’t feel like work at all.”

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