Gonzaga's Rocket Man is back

Ryan Kellogg

October 10, 2022
Dale Goodwin, Spirit Newsletter

Ryan Kellogg (’14) spent seven years working on rocket propulsion systems for SpaceX, including the last two years living on a secluded site in southern Texas where the company’s new rocket named “Starship” is being developed to carry cargo and people to the moon and other planets.

Now the Gonzaga University and Gonzaga Prep grad is back home, serving students as academic director for the Center for Engineering Design and Entrepreneurship in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

“I had moved back to Spokane to address personal priorities,” Kellogg says, “when I saw Toni Boggan had retired and the school needed to fill her role.”

He stepped right in to meet the needs of 165 students who looked forward to working with industry experts on senior design projects.

Over the summer he recruited industry sponsors to propose real-world engineering problems and supported pairing them with faculty advisers to help guide students to develop feasible solutions over the next two semesters. This year there are 41 unique projects connecting senior students with faculty advisers and field professionals.

Kellogg says his primary focus is improving the technology backbone of the program. Kellogg is making sure he challenges the students, and in so doing, he hopes to inspire them. “Being able to understand why solving a particular problem matters is important,” he says. “I think there is a tendency to set one’s eyes on the near-erm prize, like graduation or a good grade, as if that is the end goal. It’s critical, however, to keep focused on the question of ‘How will I put this to use?’ and ‘How can I make the world better with this?’”

Kellogg is collecting feedback from faculty, staff, and administration in all departments to ensure the program continues to thrive. “I’m new, we’re moving fast, and I’m going to make a few mistakes. I value the feedback. Anyone in my position should value it,” he says.

Back to SpaceX

Kellogg spent his first five years after graduation from GU in Los Angeles working on SpaceX’s Dragon 2 capsule, the only U.S. spacecraft currently able to transport cargo and crew members to the International Space Station.

A sizable part of his work was on anomaly investigations, how to fix designs that occasionally fail. Kellogg explains: “Rocketry can be quite explosive, and especially challenging to investigate when they fail a long way away.”

“I loved the work despite all the insane hours and extreme challenges. We worked hard for good reasons.”

But, throughout his career, he would come back to campus to speak with students and try to help motivate them.

And now back fulltime: “There is plenty of important work to do here, and I’ll strive to be the kind of person who says ‘Give me a challenge, and I’ll meet it with joy.’”