Alumni Spotlight: Clayton King, Class of 2011

Clayton King graduated from CDA in 2011 and currently works at NASA. He received a BS in Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University, and is currently working on his getting his Master's degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Houston.
What have you have been doing since graduating from CDA?
In my professional life, I started working at NASA full-time in the flight control position. Then, I completed two years of training to earn a certification that allows me to work in mission control. If you’ve watched the movie Apollo 13 or any NASA event, you have seen examples of mission control. Right now, I work in the Communications Radio Frequency Onboard Networks Utilization Specialist (CRONUS) group. We do all command and data handling, along with communication and tracking for the International Space Station.

What sparked your interest in a career at NASA?
While growing up, I always enjoyed anything related to space. During my junior year at CDA, Mr. Bill Rector helped me get in a program that allowed me to take an extra science elective online through NASA. We learned more about what NASA does and completed several projects related to space. For one project, we had to think about designing a rover. At the end of the course, NASA invited the top 10% of the class to a week-long space camp at Johnson Space Center with other students from across the country. That solidified my interest in NASA.

How has your education at CDA shaped the person you are?
When I was at CDA, the selling point was getting a classical education. I had the opportunity to read Greek and Roman philosophers who greatly influenced western civilization. There was also a heavy focus on English and history. Coram Deo Academy gave me a breadth of knowledge that I wouldn’t have pursued by myself. This has provided me with a strong base that allows me to look at the world in a different light. I have a full appreciation for all things related to history, literature, and the arts. I think that’s one of the reasons I still have a good reading habit.

The thing that was cool about CDA from a faith perspective is that we studied Christianity on an academic level. I learned the nuts and bolts of Christianity. You get a strong anchoring in your faith because of that.

What does servant-leadership mean for a Christian Professional?
To me, servant-leadership is the ideal form of leadership. I believe servant-leadership allows you to fully recognize how a situation is playing out. Many times people want to change the world, but there’s already someone who is better at rallying people and leading the charge. Sometimes, servant-leadership is recognizing that the best thing you can do is serve in a position that may seem humble, low level, and perhaps unexciting—all because it is work that needs to be done. I’ve seen that in both professional and non-professional settings.

Tell us about a project you have worked on at NASA.
One of the cool things I got to do this year, because of my certification to work in mission control, is work on the SpaceX DM-2 launch. This was the first launch from U.S. soil with crew on board since 2011. We launched Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken up to the International Space Station. I was on console for the first night after it docked at the station. It was amazing to be a part of that program.

Do you have any encouraging words or advice you would like to share with current CDA students?
The advice I would give to the students who are choosing a career or choosing a college is this: you are about to graduate high school, and you’re going to make what seems like a daunting decision, maybe even the most important decision of your life! You are going to choose what college you go to, what major you study, and your career. Realize that you are allowed to make a mistake.

You may pick a college and not enjoy it. There’s nothing wrong with going to a different one, or choosing a different path. There’s nothing wrong with going to technical school, switching your major, or simply not knowing what you want to do. I did a lot of internships with chemical and oil companies. Space is not the biggest field, and those industries are a lot broader. I tried them out and found I didn’t enjoy working at a chemical plant or oil refinery. I realized I truly wanted to do something involving space.

Whatever decision you make going into college is not set in stone. You still have your whole life ahead of you. Don’t feel overwhelmed. Most people don’t know what they want to do right away, and that is okay.

How did your education at CDA prepare you to live faithfully in today’s culture?
One of my favorite quotes is from Aristotle. He said, “It’s the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” That’s what has allowed me to keep my faith when exposed to new ideas and keep myself grounded at the core of who I am. At CDA, you learn that thinking about something or putting yourself in someone else’s shoes does not mean that you accept or believe every perspective. This gives you the flexibility to hear someone’s perspective, understand their beliefs, and learn from them. Instead of going up against people, you’re having thoughtful conversation where both of you can come away with a deeper understanding without forcing the other person to change. This all ties back to classical education.
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