Skip to main content

Dayton Engineer

Close-up of Sam Duncan running in a cross country meet with spectators in the background

It's Not Rocket Science

By Jacob Mantle ’23

Sam Duncan realized his passion was aerospace engineering when he watched SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket launch in 2018. 

Since then, the senior mechanical engineering student who is a member of the men’s cross country team has found a way to pursue the science behind air travel as he has accepted a full-time role with UDRI while working toward a master’s in engineering. 

Duncan chose UD because of the instant bond he felt with the team while visiting.

“It was like I was an instant part of the team and connected here, which was really exciting,” he said.

Additionally, Duncan appreciates UD’s flexibility and commitment to the whole person. 

“My boss at UDRI is very flexible with my schedule, so I can go to practices but still work. And it goes the same for my coaches,” the runner said. 

Duncan is just one of many students contributing to the $238.6 million in sponsored research at UDRI in fiscal year 2023. He specifically researches aeronautical carbon fiber, which requires high precision to account for the tight margin of error.

“We’re working on new technologies to produce and manufacture structural materials in more automated ways since many parts are handmade,” he said. “It’s hard to predict how those parts will behave because there are slight manufacturing deviances.” 

Duncan’s research has directly applied to his learning in the classroom. Last semester his aero design class toured the facilities of the private companies he researches for.

“I got to see the facilities for all the projects I’m working on at UDRI. It was cool to see what they did and how my work contributes to the endgame and vision of the company,” Duncan said.

His engineering background has also helped him in his duties as the Student-Athlete Advisory Council Flyer Challenge chair. In his SAAC role, he tracks and challenges UD’s student-athletes to attend other UD sports, enhance their professional development and engage in the community. 

“I revamped the whole system. Previously, it was just a spreadsheet that kept a record of attendance,” Duncan said. “With a little bit of coding and Google Forms, it now runs on a site that’s easy to use.”

As for Duncan’s career aspirations, he aspires to work for a smaller aerospace company to learn from multiple projects versus one career-long project at a larger company.

“I want to look at how a turbine blade fits into the engine and how that engine fits into the plane,” Duncan shared. “I try to see the forest before the trees.”

Previous Post

Lifting Others Up

Bobby ’78 and Catherine Jennings ’77 Stewart know the meaning of “work hard, play hard” as they enjoy retirement after collectively working nearly 80 years. Now they’ve established an endowed scholarship to give hard, too.

Read More
Next Post

Sharing the Whole UD Experience

There are few things as impactful as seizing the opportunity to study abroad, but not every student can afford this life-changing experience. Thanks in part to generous donations to areas like the UD Fund and scholarship funds during One Day, One Dayton, more students are able to seize that opportunity.

Read More