Faces of CNM: Rudy Garcia

He formerly worked in the construction field, but now he's on a new trajectory as a NASA Community College Aerospace Scholar.
September 27, 2018

Watching a space shuttle launch is the kind of experience almost every kid dreams of, but only a few lucky ones grow up to actually work on one.

While not yet at the point of working on space shuttles, student Rudy Garcia can already check off the “up close and personal” box as part of his experiences with CNM’s engineering program.

An Albuquerque High School graduate who went directly into the workforce, Rudy’s path changed when the recession arrived in 2008. After working for a general contractor for nearly 20 years, the changing economy prompted him to switch from construction and residential remodeling to studying computer science.

Over the last few years, he’s been increasing his coding and engineering knowledge, including competing on CNM’s NASA Swarmathon robotics team, which landed him the opportunity to visit Kennedy Space Center the last two years.

“I initially started taking computer science classes,” Rudy says, “and later registered for geology and earth planetary science, and that’s when I got into the robotics competition, which was cool because it sort of crossed both.”

This week, Rudy is at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility for a 5-day long engineering conference, one of only 319 community college students selected from across the U.S. as part of the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) experience.

The overall program includes a five-week online activity culminating with an on-site conference that includes the opportunity to meet NASA engineers and subject matter experts. Students also form teams and establish fictional companies interested in Mars exploration. Each team is responsible for developing and testing a prototype rover, forming a company infrastructure, managing a budget, and developing communications and outreach.

It’s an opportunity that fits right in with Rudy’s past experience: hands on work that involves digging in and building or re-working structures.

“One of the fun things about using a base code is that you have to tweak it a bit in the real world,” Rudy says. “Developing algorithms, for example, is different for a simulation vs. physical test or implementation.”  

The relatively soft-spoken computer science student also participated in an initial mentoring program between CNM and Intel Corporation. After tuning up his resume and attending a job fair, he found his way into a two-year internship at Intel, where he’s been working for the last 9 months.

For Rudy, creating a future in computer science and coding is about more than just his own ambitions. Like many CNM students, he works hard to balance full-time classes, 30 hours per week in his Intel internship, and still finding time to spend with his wife, and children who are ages 12 and 3.

“That’s why I’m doing it, for my kids,” he says. “Being an example for them is something I really care about.”

Once he completes his CNM coursework, Rudy plans to transfer to UNM to finish a bachelor’s degree and accelerate his career, which given the current trajectory seems like a sure bet.