NathanForton

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School

Purdue University

Discipline

Master of Science in Aeronautics and Astronautics

Specialization

Dynamics and Controls of Aerospace Systems

Future Goals

Advance his career and allow him to work on more varied projects in the aeronautics industry
“It is important that students are interested in their masters degree programs. If they don't have the interest, they won't make the commitment.”

What does a masters degree in aeronautics engineering with a specialization in dynamics and controls entail?

Aeronautics engineering is a broad degree that entails 2 years of study and several advanced level math classes. A specialization in dynamics and control will have more classes in areas such as trajectories and control system design.

Students can expect to learn a broad range of theories and skills in this program. I am currently working in the aeronautics industry, and I am learning skills I can use on a regular basis, including different methods of analysis.

Because I already have a position in the aeronautics industry, I will stay in my current job after graduation. Typical salaries for people with masters degrees vary widely by area. However, I hope to get an increase in salary to around $65,000.

What factors went into your decision to pursue your masters degree online?

I chose to pursue a masters degree online because I want to earn the degree from Purdue University, which is where I earned my bachelors degree. Since I no longer live in Indiana, I needed to enroll in the school's online program. I could have enrolled in a masters program locally, but I didn't like it as much as I like the 1 from Purdue University.

What are the main reasons you chose to get your degree from Purdue University as opposed to any other online school?

The main reason I chose to get my degree from Purdue University is because of the name recognition of the school within the engineering world. Also, I am familiar with the faculty and the quality of the courses I will take.

What are your program requirements?

The program requirements for the masters in aeronautics engineering are 10 classes, 2 of which are advanced math, 4 in the major of your choosing, 2 in a minor area of your choosing, and 2 elective classes. The program requirements are the same whether you earn your degree online or on campus.

The coursework varies depending on the class. The math classes are broad, with standard problem sets due each week, midterms, and a final. These tests are proctored and I have a proctor available at work, which is convenient. So far, the coursework for the engineering classes has been comprehensive and well organized.

Until now, I have found the coursework to be the same level of difficulty as my undergraduate classes. The coursework is more advanced, but it's not any more difficult to learn the material than in undergraduate classes. I don't have problems with the coursework very often, but if I do, the professors and teaching assistants are quick to address my concerns.

I have a full-time job, so I have to stay organized and schedule time to meet my homework deadlines. With 2 hours of class lectures 3 days a week, my life can get hectic. Fortunately, my work schedule is flexible and I can work around a lot of my classes and homework assignments.

On average, how many students are in each of your classes?

On average, I think my math classes have around 120 students in them. The engineering classes have far fewer students. I believe my controls class has only 10 or 12 students. I only know 1 of my online classmates because we were undergraduate students together.

How are class materials presented?

The class materials are presented through recorded lectures. The videos of these lectures are posted about an hour after the actual lecture is given. I download the classes and watch them when it is convenient. I try to watch the lectures on the day that they are given.

The homework assignments are submitted either through e-mail or through an online system called Blackboard. Students can also use Blackboard to discuss the homework assignments and different topics.

I travel a lot for work, so this style of presentation is convenient for me. No matter where I am, I can download the lectures and homework assignments and upload the completed assignments.

I don't think the professors grade online students based on their participation because I don't think they can tell if a student has watched a lecture or not. However, participating in the message boards helps keep you engaged in the class and in the work.

What are the most and least useful classes that you have taken?

I have just begun the masters program, so I haven't taken many classes yet. Thus far, the most useful class has been the class on controls. I can use the optimization methods I learned in the class and apply them to real-world problems.

I would say that the first math class I took was the least useful class, but only because much of the material was theoretical math that I don't currently use and don't see myself using in the future.

Will you complete a thesis component in your program?

Purdue University's masters of aeronautics engineering program has a thesis option and a non-thesis option. I chose not to write a thesis, which means I will take 10 courses. Students who choose to write a thesis take 7 courses and then take the rest of the time to write a thesis.

Do you have an advisor to assist you throughout your program?

I actually have 3 professors of my choosing who help me throughout the program as my advisory panel. Students who are enrolled in the on-campus program have the same kind of advisory panel. The department's administration is always quite helpful as well.

I communicate with my advisors and the administration primarily through e-mail and phone. What I am studying doesn't require a lot of regular interaction with my advisors, so I don't speak to them very often. So far, they have helped me with my class choices. If I were writing a thesis, I imagine I would be more engaged with them.

I haven't faced any obstacles or problems by having an advisor who is remote. I designed the majority of my masters degree program before I started graduate school, so I haven't needed my advisors for much.

How do you interact with your professors?

I mostly interact with my professors online through e-mail and the class discussion boards. Professors and teaching assistants are good about responding to my questions and concerns.

I would suggest that online students not be afraid to ask questions. It can be difficult, especially in math and engineering classes, because it isn't always easy to type complicated equations in an email. But it is important that students get the answers they need in order to understand the material. So far, the professors I have contacted have been very helpful, but I had to make the effort.

How knowledgeable do you feel your professors are?

I think the professors I have at Purdue University are very knowledgeable. I had them as an undergraduate student and was impressed by the work they and their graduate students did. They are often the top professors in their fields.

Are you able to get to know your professors on a personal basis?

It is difficult to get to know the professors on a personal level because of the distance of online learning, but I still think they care about their students' success. It seems as if a lot of the professors are getting used to the online medium and trying to present material in a way that helps all of their students succeed.

I am not comfortable asking most of my online professors for letters of recommendation because I don't have a very close relationship with them. I could ask some of my masters professors for letters of recommendation, but that is only because I knew them prior to the online program.

Based on your experience so far, is there anything you would have done differently in pursuing your masters degree online?

Based on my experience so far, I wouldn't change anything about pursuing my masters degree online. However, I would say that you have to be mindful of the time commitments you make in your non-academic life. Taking 2 classes at a time and working full time has been a lot of work for me.

For students who are considering studying online, I would advise them to be sure they are committed to the program. It is easy to fall behind and very difficult to catch up. It is important that students are interested in their masters degree programs. If they don't have the interest, they won't make the commitment.