Cleared for Takeoff

KENNESAW, Ga. | May 7, 2018

Graduate to hone skills at Los Alamos National Laboratory, NASA

For Chris Roper, schoolwork really can be rocket science.

Since he arrived at Kennesaw State University in 2015 to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering, Roper has racked up accolades for his prowess in the aerospace field. In 2017, he placed third at the National Society of Black Engineers Technical Research Exhibition for his research on propulsion and combustion for turbofan engines and followed up with a first-place finish at this year’s convention.

He is one of more than 50 Peach State Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Scholars at Kennesaw State who conducted research alongside top engineers and scientists, and has fielded job offers from Boeing. After graduating this week, Roper will accept a full fellowship at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he will begin a three-month stint in the Explosives Center. He will then head to the West Coast for a six-month co-op with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.

Chris Roper

From an early age, Roper said he knew that he was destined to study aerospace. As a child, he found that he was drawn to anything that flew – planes, rockets and satellites. By the time he enrolled at the University of West Georgia, however, he found that he also had a passion for physics.

“The big goal was always to become a rocket scientist,” Roper said. “But I felt that if I could understand the fundamental science, I could understand a lot of things. I really wanted to become the most diverse student I could be.”

While exploring dual degree partnerships between University System of Georgia schools, Roper learned that he could complete his degree in physics at West Georgia while pursuing a degree in the Southern Polytechnic College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, and was encouraged by KSU’s minor in aerospace engineering and his interactions with Adeel Khalid, an associate professor of systems engineering. This month, he will graduate this month with degrees from both institutions.  

“Before I came to Kennesaw State, I was under the impression that it was going to be a smaller institution,” Roper said. “After becoming a student, I was really impressed by the resources it has and the professionalism of the faculty. The way the professors can bring their industry experience into the classroom is something unique.”

Roper said he leveraged his classroom experience to bolster his research on turbofan engines and their performance in a variety of environmental conditions. The results of his studies have been presented at conferences hosted by the American Society of Engineering Education and the Council of Undergraduate Research, among others. He credits Khalid’s course on aircraft propulsions as being the most impactful.

“It was one of the most complex and challenging classes that I had on this campus because there was variety,” Roper said. “Every day was interesting, and every day we were learning something new. That’s when I realized how cool and different it was to take what you learned in the classroom and apply it to something tangible.”

His interests while at Kennesaw State have also included testing on wind turbines for low speed environments, the results of which have been published in peer-reviewed journals. More recently, Roper conducted research with KSU’s Precision Flight Controls CRX flight simulator, seeking ways to integrate the technologically advanced machine into undergraduate coursework. His research involved training students to fly a plane on certain flight paths by delivering instructions in a variety of ways and measuring retention.

“I have always been impressed by Chris’s willingness to work above and beyond what is required from him,” Khalid said. “I find him ready to take on challenges, and he has long since demonstrated his excellence in engineering. Given his strong work ethic and zeal, I am confident that he will be a valuable asset to any organization he joins.”

After completing his studies at Los Alamos National Laboratory and at NASA, Roper intends to pursue his doctorate in aerospace engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. A first-generation student raised by a single mother, he said he hopes to inspire the next generation of engineers using himself as an example.

“If I go back 10 years and tell myself that I would be accomplishing all of these things, I don’t know that I could believe it,” he said. “I’ve seen how I can influence people and it makes me very proud to have the ability to do so.” 

– Travis Highfield

Photos by David Caselli

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 43,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit