Roseburg grad lands dream job with NASA


CORVALLIS - An Oregon State University student from Roseburg will be living "a dream come true" as he jets to Florida's Kennedy Space Center later this month (June) for an internship with NASA.

Ross Witherell, an OSU junior in mechanical engineering, will spend his summer working with robotics in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Automated Ground Support Division.

"It's a job and experience of a lifetime," said Witherell, a 1996 graduate of Roseburg High School. "It's just a complete dream for me."

The division develops systems for the center's space shuttle and space station missions, including the processing, launch, and landing of space shuttles and their payloads.

Growing up in Roseburg, Witherell said that from childhood erector sets to computer-assisted drafting as a teenager, he has always been interested in designing machinery and structures.

"My grandfather worked at Roseburg Forest Products," Witherell said, and the noise and the mystery of the machinery there hooked him at an early age. Witherell first enrolled in mechanical engineering at OSU, then switched to the College of Business only to later transfer back to engineering.

Witherell found his first months of college frustrating - for a reason.

"It started when I was a freshman," he said. "I just wasn't doing well in testing, but I knew the material, the information from class. I decided to get myself tested at OSU and I found out that I had a specific type of learning disability, which just means that I have to approach things a different way."

While consulting with Tracy Bentley-Townlin, OSU's director of services for students with disabilities, he learned about the Kennedy Space Center internship. In conjunction with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, NASA was offering ACCESS (Achieving Competence in Computing, Engineering and Space Science) internships for students with disabilities.

Application processing took 18 months, but finally, he learned he would be going to Florida.

While at OSU, Witherell has been active in a variety of campus activities, including service on the President's Committee on Campus Climate. He plans to continue his work in the College of Engineering and possibly pursue a career with NASA or in the medical field, designing prosthetics.