Engineering alumnus follows astronautics passion to become rocket scientist

KENNESAW, Ga. | Aug 7, 2020

 Hershle Ellis
Hershle Ellis

Growing up, Hershle Ellis gravitated toward anything that had to do with science fiction and astronautics. He dreamed he would one day be responsible for blasting spacecraft into orbit and decided early on that studying engineering would be the vehicle through which he could achieve those goals.

Having graduated from Kennesaw State University in May with his degree in mechanical engineering, Ellis recently accepted a position as a propulsion systems engineer, or a rocket scientist, at United Launch Alliance (ULA) in Colorado. At ULA, he is part of a team helping to design the Vulcan Centaur launch vehicle.

Now living out his dream, Ellis said it wouldn’t be possible without the help of faculty in the Southern Polytechnic College of Engineering and Engineering Technology.

“Through my engineering coursework, I was able to participate in countless group projects that really sharpened my design capabilities and critical thinking,” he said. “I was able to take a lot of that knowledge and immediately put it into action on my internships, and I certainly lean on it now as a professional.”

Ellis credits Adeel Khalid, the University’s resident aerospace engineering expert, with further developing his passion for flight. While completing his aerospace engineering minor, he was given the freedom to explore topics in astronautics and benefited from Khalid’s extensive industry experience.

“He was an exceptional student who always went above and beyond the requirements of the course,” said Khalid, professor of systems engineering. “He was often the first to understand difficult concepts in class and made the extra effort to perform well. I believe his passion and quest for learning is what ultimately allowed him to achieve his career goals.”

Like countless of others who have earned their degrees in KSU’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, Ellis’ undergraduate journey culminated in a senior design project. Under the guidance of Laura and Richard Ruhala, both professors of mechanical engineering, he and a few classmates devised a machine that could move large quantities of ice and other material on the surface of the moon, something they envisioned could be used for future National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) missions. To prepare for the project, Ellis and his team researched existing machinery and attempted to engineer a new application based on their findings.

Ellis would also submit a research paper to the American Society of Mechanical Engineering’s International Mechanical Engineering Congress & Exposition.

“Hershle possesses both analytical and creativity skills that I saw him apply in designing a novel lunar transportation system during his senior capstone course with a team of his peers,” Richard Ruhala said. “I am thrilled to see him reach his dream of becoming a rocket engineer.”

Laura Ruhala added that his enthusiasm for the project was “contagious.”

While at KSU, Ellis completed two engineering internships, the first of which at United Technologies Aerospace Systems (UTAS). At UTAS, he gained valuable experience as a program quality intern while working on the tower module for the Boeing 747 airplane. Two years later, he would join ULA as a tooling engineering and design intern, designing tools for the Centaur V upper stage and reverse engineering an autonomous welder, which would later catapult him into his career.

“I can’t imagine I would be where I am today if it weren’t for my professors, colleagues and the projects I undertook as a student,” he said. “I use these skills daily, and I’m well on my way to reaching new heights.”

– Travis Highfield

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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