Kellogg Brings SpaceX Career Experience to Senior Design


August 18, 2022
Janean Schmidt | School of Engineering & Applied Science

Ryan Kellogg has an important message for Gonzaga SEAS students: There is no single way to solve an engineering or computer science problem.

Kellogg learned that from two places: Gonzaga's BS program in mechanical engineering, and SpaceX, where he developed propulsion systems. Today, he is back at Gonzaga as Academic Director of the Center for Engineering Design and Entrepreneurship (CEDE)--which oversees the school's senior design program.

The senior design program models the professional engineering and computer science work environment. Teams of two-to-five students work together to address real-world design problems, with guidance from a faculty member and an industry liaison. It's a great opportunity to test creative or unusual solutions.

"The only way to get good at problem solving is to solve problems, and the complexity of those problems matters," he says. "What we are really creating here are professional problem solvers."

Kellogg says one of the most important aspects of Gonzaga's approach is its flexibility. Each project is a unique experience because of its particular mix of sponsors, advisors, the individual students on the team, and the specific problem to be addressed.   

"We try to create a relatively broad array of opportunities. We bring in sponsors from both public and private entities in a variety of capacities," he says. That gives students a better chance to find a project that taps into what they're really interested in exploring. That's the real key to learning, Kellogg says.  

"I discovered much of this at SpaceX, when I'd work with someone who wasn’t formally educated in something but learned it because they were specifically interested in the outcomes. If Senior Design students are excited about the right element of these projects, then the rest is just letting them run with the talented people that we brought in from industry."  

Rapid change

In Kellogg's first year at Gonzaga, he was told that the technology problems he would solve after graduation likely didn’t exist yet. Today, approximately a decade later, he might say the same thing but to seniors rather than freshmen.  

"I'm fairly convinced that it's down to a year now. Industry, economies, information and technology just move so much faster and faster, especially if you're going into anything related to electronics. It's completely new every few years -- maybe not the way users interact with it, but the core level is changing so fast," he says.  

At SpaceX, he saw the development rate skyrocket -- literally. Founder Elon Musk and other company officials have spoken publicly about the company's reliance on rapid iteration. Kellogg says the evolution happened for every aspect of a challenge.

  "Across the board, rapid, exciting and impressive iterative problem-solving touched everything. So if a student is excited about something that I'm not excited about or familiar with, great! Because we need more people than just me and my opinions. My objective is to inspire somebody to push technology in new and positive directions and make tomorrow better than today," he says.